iHeritage project launched to employ cutting-edge technologies in tourism and cultural heritage

The Jordan Times

AMMAN — The ICT Mediterranean platform for UNESCO cultural heritage (iHeritage) project was launched on Wednesday, funded by the ENI CBC MED programme of the European Union, to help Jordan promote tourism and archaeological sites digitally, starting with Petra.

The launch event was held in cooperation with the Jordanian Society for Scientific Research, Entrepreneurship and Creativity (JSSREC), project partners, and the Department of Antiquities (DoA).

Narmeen Marji, ICT expert at the JSSREC, delivered a presentation introducing the project, noting that the technologies of Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR) will be incorporated into iHeritage, with the objectives of supporting education, scientific research, technological innovation and boosting economic and social growth.

The project takes social and economic challenges into consideration, with plans of increasing youth participation in the economy, focusing on the unemployed and those with lower levels of education, who can serve as part of local support groups, labs, workshops and other activities associated with or generated by the project.

“The iHeritage project will support cooperation between universities and small- and medium-sized enterprises to create innovative AR, VR and MR products, and provide training to harmonise worker skills with the needs of the labour market,” Marji said.

On the Mediterranean level, the iHeritage project aims to address the lack of development of innovative products and services in the fields of tourism and cultural heritage, as in using the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Big Data, Marji said.

The project addresses the lack of a Mediterranean platform for AR, VR and MR designated for cultural heritage, tangible and intangible, based on international standards, the ICT expert said.

The project also addresses the gap between the level of information and ICT services available for the various users in the EU and that in the Mediterranean region. Another aspect of the project deals with the shortage of skilled human capital and the lack of systematic cooperation between the academic and the industrial sectors, Marji said.

The project will benefit 300 researchers and ICT workers — 50 from each target country — who will commercially develop their research ideas, 300 employees of public authorities, who will be provided with special training sessions to obtain new skills allowing them to work in international settings, in addition to at least 3,000 innovative SMEs that require specialized and highly-skilled employees, Marji said.

The project will support 6,000 young men and women with little formal education or who are unemployed, many of whom will be from the local communities, by enabling them to take an active part in its implementation and various activities, such as the training and the online testing. It also targets 10 million tourists who visit UNESCO’s cultural sites, and two million end-users who have access to AR, VR, and MR technologies, Marji said.

The partner countries of iHeritage include Jordan, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Lebanon, and Egypt, Marji said, noting that the JSSREC and the DoA in Jordan will participate in coordinating the project’s events in the Kingdom, and facilitate access to Petra for the organization of a major event called “iArt” to be held at the final stage of iHeritage, presenting new forms of visual arts, among other activities.

The overall budget for the project is 3.8 million euros, of which 3.4 million is a contribution of the EU, Marji said, noting that the expected achievements include 18 research agreements among universities, researchers and SMEs, six new training programmes, 76 new innovative services and products to boost the value of intangible cultural heritage and a memorandum of understanding to establish a regional hub for the same purpose.

Marji also detailed the project’s work packages and stages, activities and expected outcomes for each stage until the completion of iHeritage.

Rida Shibli, president of the JSSREC, listed the society’s achievements and projects in fields related to various technological areas, noting that many committees at JSSREC work within a set framework, including doing research to serve society.

Director of the DoA, Yazeed Elian, said that the department’s role is protecting archeological sites as well as developing and managing them, recording their stories to increase their value for visitors.

“The positive interaction of the local community with the site is key in protecting it, as the locals feel connected to the site, it becomes part of their priorities which they will defend, so the idea of iHeritage is not only concerned with international marketing but also local marketing, showing the sites in new dimensions and new technologies,” Elian noted.

Energy, Environment and Climate Change Programme Manager from the delegation of the EU in Amman Omar Abu Eid said that cross-border cooperation between the EU and Jordan has been ongoing for many years, and the iHeritage project is yet another example of it.