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Kirsti Mathiesen Hjemdahl, CEO at Cultiva, and Reidar Fuglestad, Managing Director at Sørlandets Kunstmuseum/ Kunstsilo, with the new employee.

Museum ‘employs’ robot to digitise 6,000 works of art

New Perspectives | The Tangen Collection 08.03.2022

Sørlandets Kunstmuseum in Kristiansand, Norway, has acquired a robot that is going to digitise their collections, one of which is The Tangen Collection. It is the world’s largest private collection of modernist Nordic art, and it was assembled by Nicolai Tangen, who is also the CEO of the Norwegian Oil Fund. 

“This gives us a whole new opportunity to reach a wider segment of the public, including those people who are not deeply interested in art,” says Reidar Fuglestad, Managing Director of Sørlandets Kunstmuseum, after the museum purchased a robot system from Pioneer Robotics this month to carry out the digitisation process.  

Sørlandets Kunstmuseum’s new robot photographs the famous Norwegian painter Amaldus Nilsen’s work Morgen ved Ny-Hellesund. Photo: Erling Slyngstad-Hægeland

Sørlandets Kunstmuseum is focusing greatly on strengthening its digital communication before the opening of Kunstsilo in 2024. Together with technological companies Multilab, Pioneer Robotics, Mechatronics Innovation Lab (MIL) and Applica Robot Integration, the museum has developed software that does the photography with the help of an industrial robot, utilising a process known as gigapixel photography. 

16 billion pixels 

“This means that the robot manoeuvres a camera along a painting and takes hundreds of high-resolution close-up photographs. Afterwards, the pictures are collected in a software program that puts them together into one photo with over 16 billion pixels. The digitized artwork has a resolution and quality that match the Google Art Camera and expensive scanners, but this is a more cost-effective and flexible solution,” says Torill Haugen, Digital Advisor at Sørlandets Kunstmuseum.  

The pictures will be shown both on digital surfaces and in different rooms in Kunstsilo, where you also can set parts of the artwork in motion and consequently bring the story and the presentation of it to life.  

“We have done experiments and tests with this, and it has been a pleasure to see the positive reactions that people of all ages have with it,” says Reidar Fuglestad. 

Applicable and user-friendly 

The robot itself is an off-the-shelf solution from Universal Robot. The software and the arm that holds the camera are specially designed for the purpose for which it will be used.  

“The system consists of a collaborative robot that an operator can share work tasks with. As such, we have a completely new tool which can be used by welders, carpenters and photographers who take photos of works of art. Since the camera must be held in a fixed position at a certain distance from the painting, a person would find such a task difficult to do. However, for the robot it’s easy. And the application of this is greatly focused on being user-friendly – you don’t need to have extensive expertise to operate it,” says Svein-Inge Baade Ringstad, Product Director at MIL. 

Kai-Wilhelm Nessler at Multilab, who was a consultant for the museum, is the one who saw the possibilities for making use of a robot to do gigapixel photography in regard to artwork. The software has been developed by Applica, who, so to speak, has given the robot an excellent pair of eyes. This innovative solution is thus the result of a close cooperative effort between an art institution and innovative technology companies located in the Sørlandet region.  

“The technological challenges that the museum had are ones for which solutions were found years ago in other industries. So, Applica and Pioneer Robotics are now taking the same expertise into completely new fields,” explains Svein-Inge Baade Ringstad. 

From the left: Finn Oscar Karlsen (Pioneer Robotics), Kai-Wilhelm Nessler (Multilab), Kirsti Mathiesen Hjemdahl (Cultiva), Svein-Inge Ringstad (MIL), Jørn Bersvendsen (Applica), Reidar Fuglestad og Torill Haugen (Sørlandets Kunstmuseum). Photography: Erling Slyngstad-Hægeland.
From the left: Finn Oscar Karlsen (Pioneer Robotics), Kai-Wilhelm Nessler (Multilab), Kirsti Mathiesen Hjemdahl (Cultiva), Svein-Inge Ringstad (MIL), Jørn Bersvendsen (Applica), Reidar Fuglestad og Torill Haugen (Sørlandets Kunstmuseum). Photography: Erling Slyngstad-Hægeland.

Creating jobs 

Sørlandets Kunstmuseum is in the process of digitising both the Tangen Collection as well as the museum’s other collections. They have received support for the project from the Arts Council Norway and Cultiva.  

“We want to inspire the fields of art and culture to experiment and to take ownership of the process of digital transformation. We believe it would be in accord with our statutes, which, in particular, are to secure jobs in Kristiansand,” says Kirsti Mathiesen Hjemdahl, CEO at Cultiva.  

And there is no doubt that the museum’s digital venture will create jobs. 

“We are going to have a digital team in place when Kunstsilo opens, and we envision that parts of our digital communication will be a core competence for us here in the future,” says Reidar Fuglestad.   

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