Project facts

Duration: 2020-11-1 - 2022-10-31
Project coordinator: The Cyprus Institute
Project consortium: Fondazione Bruno Kessler, Institute for Systems and Computer Engineering, Technology and Science (INESC TEC)
Funding bodies: Research Innovation Foundation RIF), Cyprus; Ministry of Education, Universities and Research (MIUR) Italy; Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT), Portugal
Subject areas: AI, Archaeology, Conservation, Preventive conservation, Tangible Heritage
Budget: 565125 euro


The loss of archaeological heritage continues today at a constant pace, both due to natural disasters and human-made actions. However, distressingly a significant proportion of the ongoing destruction is brought about by looters and illegal and destructive excavations.

This problem is by no means a new one. It has grown more acute in recent decades not only in those areas deemed unsafe due to ongoing conflicts but also in archaeological sites spread in European countries, where the control cannot be accurately guaranteed due to lack of human resources, funds or adequate technologies.

The Safeguard Heritage In Endangered Looted Districts (SHIELD) Project aims at designing and building an artificially intelligent Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) to patrol archaeological and heritage sites using the latest technologies in imaging techniques, live data streaming, decentralized onboard processing, Machine Learning, and flight data management.

The customized surveillance device is expected to be autonomously deployed from a ground station (helipad) on scheduled missions both during night and day routine flights. The system is foreseen to take-off, patrol a targeted area, stream live data, land, recharge the batteries and stand-by for the next scheduled operation. The final goals are represented by the identification of looting activities in real-time, the collection of data for monitoring purposes on the medium and long-term period and the creation of a deterrence strategy to target specific criminal behavior.

Impacts & Results

SHIELD has been built around the scope and objectives of the JPICH call aiming to address different research areas.

Its final goal is to develop a new tool purposely tailored for its integration into thematic policies and strategies for the protection of cultural heritage, implemented by the relevant stakeholders such as Departments of Antiquities and Police Corps.

The control of the drone(s) operation will be guaranteed remotely by a number of trained personnel despite the dimension of the fleet. Routine patrolling activities will be delegated to SHIELD. Whenever the system identifies a possible threat, an alarm will be triggered, and patrols will be deployed on field accordingly.

SHIELD project is foreseen to optimize the man-efforts, increasing the value of this asset. It will enable stakeholders to achieve strategic goals and maximize funds available.

In the long-term SHIELD will drastically impact on economic and non-economic resource optimization by the local authorities and government.

The project results and products will significantly contribute to improving the responsiveness and effectiveness of public authorities against the phenomenon of illicit excavations.

The SHIELD project besides providing a new tool which will enable public authorities to protect heritage sites effectively will serve as a powerful deterrence strategy. The latter is conceived according to the panopticon theory. The concept of the design of the prison is to allow all prisoners of a penitentiary to be observed by a single security guard, without the inmates being able to tell whether they are being watched. Although it is physically impossible for the single guard to observe all the inmates' cells at once, the fact that the inmates cannot know when they are being watched means that they are motivated to act as though they are being watched at all times. Thus, inmates are effectively compelled to regulate their behavior. This concept would apply to looters who, without knowing if they are being or not observed by the SHIELD system, would refrain themselves before conducting any criminal action.