Centre for Understanding Digital Objects (CUDO).



Professor Mike Holcombe (Computer Science) - coordinator.

Professor Robin Dennell (Archaeology and Prehistory)

Professor Peter Hill (Music)

Professor Bryan Lawson (Architecture)

Professor Yorick Wilks (Computer Science)

Professor Rae Earnshaw, (University of Bradford, Computing)


Associated members from the Faculties of Pure Science and Engineering.

Professor Micheline Beaulieu (Information Studies)

Professor Mark Greengrass (History)

Professor Phil Green (Computer Science)

Professor Mahesan Niranjan (Computer Science)

Professor Noel Sharkey (Computer Science)

Professor David Burnley (English Language and Linguistics)

Professor Richard Carwardine (History)

Mr. Michael Hannon (University Librarian)

Professor David Luscombe (History & Director of the Humanities Research Institute)

Professor Andrew Prescott (Humanities Research Institute))

Professor Sally Shuttleworth (English Literature)

Professor Jeremy Till (Architecture)

Professor David Walker (French)

Dr. Penny Eley (French)

Dr. Sarah Foot (History)

Dr. Sarah Howard (Human Communication Science)

Dr. Adrian Moore (Music)

Dr. Penny Simons (French)

Dr. Guy Brown (Computer Science)

Dr. Andrew Chamberlain (Archaeology and Prehistory)

Dr. Barry Eaglestone (Information Studies)

Dr. Rob Gaizauskas (Computer Science)

Dr. Jian Kang (Architecture)

Dr. Steve Maddock (Computer Science)

Dr. Chengzi Peng (Architecture)

Dr. Mick Perkins, (Human Communication Science)

Dr. Steve Renals (Computer Science)

Dr. Mark Sanderson (Information Studies)

Dr. Osman Tokhi (Automatic Control and Systems Engineering)

Dr. Claire Warwick (Information Studies)





Science, engineering, innovation and scholarship are increasingly dependent on computer-based representations of complex structures, whether derived by data capture from the real world, or created from scratch, or a mixture of the two. We introduce the term 'digital objects' to refer to these structures.


Examples of these objects are


Visual, audio and audio-visual archives

Digital models of cells and molecules

Virtual Buildings

Archaeological Objects

Textual Archives



The mission of the centre we propose will be to 'understand' digital objects: their design, creation, analysis, maintenance, manipulation and application.


Studies based on digital objects require active interaction rather than passive absorption, for instance:

- searching by voice/image in audio-visual archives, resulting in adding "links" into the material, so that the material is enriched and thus more exploitable;

- manipulating and maintaining 3D designs in architecture to assist with the continual revision of aspects of the design which can create enormous document workflow problems, as well as overcoming the many conceptual obstacles to understanding the properties of potential buildings;

- on-line exploration of multi-dimensional and multi-functional molecular species interacting with each other through a variety of structural contexts and constraints;

- examining how created objects can be represented and manipulated so as to study the creation process itself, a major theme here will be music and sound;

- extracting and manipulating .information from digitised manuscripts



The creation of a Digital Object Centre would provide synergy between computer scientists developing Digital Object technology and academic users of Digital Objects.

The proposal is for a building containing a large amount of powerful computing and digitising equipment that would enable researchers in the Faculties of Engineering, Science and Architecture, to work together to develop and use state of the art intelligent software to interact with digital objects derived from - visual data such as archive material, virtual artefacts - e.g. archaeological relics, virtual buildings, digital models of cells and molecules, aural data including speech and music, texts and historical manuscripts in exciting and new ways. The Department of Computer Science would be involved in developing new types of software and adapting existing state of the art tools in collaboration with researchers from engineering and science to enable the exploration of new ways to carry out fundamental research in the creation, analysis and manipulation of digital objects arising in key application domains utilising the latest technology. The aim is to reinforce Sheffield as a premier site in what will become a major new research direction: the understanding of complex digital objects representing space, sound and text.


Suitable space has been identified in the Amy Johnson Building.


This research direction has been identified as a major opportunity for the applications of new concepts in software science, and the continuing dramatic development of computer technology will create many exciting research opportunities.

[Ref. The Cornell Report [http://www.cs.cornell.edu/cis-dean/Task%20Force%20Final%20Report.htm]]

Sheffield is extremely well placed to exploit this new technology further, by building on its strengths in the arts and humanities and in application driven computer science and artificial intelligence. Many eminent scholars in the Arts and Humanities in Sheffield will be associated with the Centre and will be able to provide further challenging and exciting applications for the technologies and software developed above. The cognitive basis of many higher order human activities such as creativity and understanding will be the subject of fundamental scientific enquiry in order to develop new methods of creating and understanding digital objects.


The principle themes include:

(i) Developing digital object repositories and information retrieval mechanisms based on content and semantics rather than on traditional database classification methods which are expensive, inflexible and generally unsuitable for emerging applications in the efficient use and analysis of digital objects. This will build on the key research carried out with the British Broadcasting Corporation building massive repositories of their sound archives accessed through the tape's sound contents.

(ii) Capitalising on the availability of repositories of digital objects to build new ways of understanding the properties and uses of digital objects in fields as diverse as: architecture - exploring architectural design issues and communicating with visual representations of buildings, molecular biology - developing next generation computational models of complex biological systems based upon the results of genome and protein sequencing information coming out of bioinformatics; speech and music - increasing the understanding of the production and perception of speech and music sounds and interacting with such digital objects to identify new and revealing insights into their properties.

(iii) Exploring new areas relating to the issue of understanding creativity by examining how the digital objects are transformed during the design process. This is a precursor to building more efficient and artist friendly electronic design environments to support the creation of artistic artefacts (buildings, music, texts, pottery and sculpture etc.)

(iv) Hosting projects from within the Arts and Humanities to build on the tools and know-how of the Centre to provide better digitised content from Britain's scholarly and historical heritage and ways in which this content can be exploited both in terms of more sophisticated academic analysis and also commercially.