The Internet of Things is the future, but it’s also key to the past. Yes, its main function may be to make environments and objects more reactive to our needs through the use of various connected sensors, but increasingly these sensors are being used to monitor historic buildings and structures. And thanks to such monitoring, we’re getting better at preserving the world’s heritage, using future technology to keep us connected to our collective past.

One of the most high profile examples of such use first emerged in May 2016, when part of the embankment of the river Arno in Florence collapsed, putting the world-renowned Ponte Vecchio bridge in jeopardy of a similar fate. Responding to this threat, the Geology Department of the University of Florence installed a system of geotechnical sensors to monitor the 14th-Century bridge, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The system to remotely collect real-time data from these sensors was provided by Worldsensing, a Barcelona-based IoT firm whose Loadsensing remote monitoring system was installed across the 32-metre bridge in the form of numerous wireless sensors.

These sensors track the stability of the bridge and of the surrounding land in real-time, ensuring that Ponte Vecchio isn’t at risk of subsidence or collapse. They send a steady stream of data back to operators elsewhere in Florence, who check incoming information using Loadsensing’s Software Suite, which in turn is powered at the backend by the time-series database developed by California-based company InfluxData. By checking data in real-time, Florence City Council could respond proactively in cases of danger, thereby helping to preserve the life of the bridge and helping to keep everyone who uses and visits it safe.

“Using the power of the IoT, we are able to bring that data faster, in a more secure way, to a centralized system, where you can cross-reference that data with other signals,” explains Worldsensing CTO Albert Zaragoza, speaking to me in October at the IoT World Solutions Congress. “Previously each one of the devices and departments operated in silos. Currently, using IoT technologies once you have an event or an alert, cities and companies are able to respond faster, preventing disasters that otherwise would have been ignored or not detected due to the lack of visibility from the other systems.”

Ponte Vecchio isn’t the only example of world history being protected by IoT technology. English Heritage has also turned to the IoT in recent years, having enlisted the help of Oxford-based technology firm Shepherd to monitor several of the historic English buildings it maintains.

Using Shepherd’s technology, English Heritage can monitor individual rooms in their buildings. Shepherd’s systems transmit thousands of data points related to the integrity of a building’s fabric, to its environmental conditions, and to the operations of other devices (such as electrical appliances). By compiling this data through a single portal, the charity organization can construct a clearer idea of which buildings and structures need repair and which don’t, in the process driving down their costs.

It’s not only historical buildings that can be preserved using IoT technology, but historical artefacts and artworks. In July, digital services firm Libelium announced that it had partnered with the Huesca Museum in Spain to monitor the environmental conditions in which priceless works are exhibited. Using Libelium‘s Plug & Sense devices, the museum is able to maintain a real-time record of the humidity and light in any given exhibition room, something which is vital if centuries-old pieces are to be preserved for generations to come.

It’s clear that, as IoT devices and platforms becoming more prevalent and more affordable, there will be a significant increase in the numbers of governments, charities and museums using the Internet of Things to preserve the world’s history. As such, this represents at least one case where, rather than being disruptive, new technology will be conservative and protective. Yes, future technology will most likely change how we live, but by helping to keep us connected with our pasts, it should still help us remember what’s most valuable and important to us.

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