It’s a digital tablet like no other. And not only because it is equipped with a strange side handle which gives it a false appearance of a gaming platform. Equipped with a camera and, depending on the model, thermal but also infrared sensors, this device designed by the company Artéka should revolutionize the work of archaeologists. More surprisingly, this instrument could also have complementary military and medical variations. Explanations.
At the origin of this invention, two forties from universes far removed from each other. The first, Cyrille Chaidron, lives in Amiens. He is a ceramologist, specialist in ancient pottery, especially Roman. The second, Sébastien Lermenier, an expert in thermography, lives, for his part, near Lille.
In the spring of 2020, Cyrille, stuck at home (like the whole country) by confinement, conceived the idea of an artificial intelligence (AI) adapted to his profession as an expert. “I had been reading about this for a while. As I deepened my knowledge, I realized the incredible opportunities this technology opened up. I realized, for example, that it was likely to help me do the tedious work of inventorying the shards of pottery I bring back from each of my excavation sites more quickly, ”says the archaeologist.
With computers now able to identify individuals by facial recognition, Cyrille Chaidron thought there was a chance they could help him sort the ceramic shards, based on their color and shape. “A well-trained camera can detect patterns or stamps which are used by artisans to sign and allow to determine the paternity of an object”, continues this former employee of the National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research, now on his own account. .
The researcher understands that artificial intelligence can thus save him precious time in his work. “The hours saved with this tool I can spend more usefully on writing new reports,” he admits bluntly. By plunging passionately into the technical works describing the algorithms that underpin the effectiveness of these programs, Cyrille Chaidron, at the same time, began to imagine other applications: starting with the detection of archaeological sites.
To learn how to process the images recorded by drone, he joined forces with Sébastien Lermenier, whose job is to decipher pictures captured from the sky with on-board thermal cameras. “Recognizing the physical details in the landscape that may indicate a place that deserves to be excavated, again, that enters the ropes of artificial intelligence”, indicates this expert in energy diagnostics.
If the detection of archaeological areas by plane is old, the route of old buildings appearing clearly under the vegetation at certain times of the year, especially in agricultural areas, the AI coupled with high-definition cameras now allows the exploitation of details. topological or vegetal imperceptible to the naked eye. “It can be very low intensity shades of color, a change in the texture of the soil, or a very inconspicuous relief that creates a tiny shadow,” the archaeologist lists.
The two men lead a life-size test in the suburb of Amiens. After burying objects over a wide area, they fly a drone over the area to see if the machine can easily find them. “This experiment turned out to be so successful that we patented our device”, enthuses Sébastien Lermenier.
Their solution was not long in attracting industrialists working in sectors far removed from archeology. Imagery based on multispectral surveys can indeed be useful in locating objects other than buried treasures. With related technology, the two partners soon find themselves working for the Suez group, which specializes in water management. “We allowed them to map old underground networks of which they had not kept the plans,” says Cyrille Chaidron.
The soldiers disembark
In June 2020, emissaries from the Ministry of Defense contacted them explaining that their invention could also be of interest to the military. “Their tablet can spot traces of the burial of anti-personnel or anti-tank mines”, explains Cédric Gisbert, former unit chief of the 13th parachute dragon regiment, now at the head of the consulting firm OuterVision, specializing in support of the armed forces.
“We hadn’t thought about it, but, in retrospect, it seems logical,” laugh the two partners, who really realize the sensitivity of their invention when a small team from the Directorate General of Internal Security (DGSI) arrives at them to brief them on safety. “They told us everything we needed to do now to protect our technology. We arrived from another world and we welcomed this advice with great gratitude, because it was formulated in a benevolent and constructive manner, “Judge Cyrille Chaidron.
Cedric Gisbert is not the only one to have spotted them. An officer, based in Africa, contacted them at the same time, in the hope that their AI could one day equip the lead vehicles of the convoys he sent to patrol the Sahel area where he was in command of a regiment. His wish ? Locate, upstream, any home-made explosive devices (IED), with which the region’s terrorist movements fill the lines of communication. The Ministry of Defense innovation agency takes over. The Bertin Technologies industrial group is joining the dance.
The DGSI watches over
This support from actors specializing in this sensitive sector is all the more valuable to them as Cyrille Chaidron and Sébastien Lermenier then began to receive strange proposals from abroad. “Emissaries linked to Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, but also Côte d’Ivoire contacted us, but we did not follow up,” the two men said.
Presented last September in front of an audience of weapons engineers and then tested on a military base away from prying eyes, their tablet seems to convince the staff. “The tool can effectively spot IEDs by reading soils up to two meters deep depending on the terrain,” concludes former French special forces element Cédric Gisbert. The development by the Ministry of the Armed Forces of a military version of the tablet is now on the table.
The partners are not at the end of their surprises. After having declined their artificial intelligence in the field of painting in order to identify possible older patterns under the visible layers (which fulfilled the expectations of the curators of the Picardy museums in Amiens, in the Somme, but also of La Fère , in the Aisne), the archaeologist and the thermographer were invited by a Franco-American investment fund to explore a new field of research: health! “The application of Cyrille and Sébastien can indeed greatly improve the detection of certain diseases,” explains Fabien Saint, urologist-surgeon at Amiens University Hospital Center. Arteka’s solution is, in fact, available for endoscopy.
A variation for the hospital
“We tested this artificial intelligence for the diagnosis of bladder tumors, and it seems to work perfectly since their application identifies cancer cells at very early stages”, indicates the doctor, who is preparing, for 2022, a clinical trial intended to test the effectiveness of this solution.
Other specialties are already in line to experiment with their AI. “Dermatologists are interested, but also ophthalmologists,” says Cyrille Chaidron. “We are possibly on the eve of a major technological breakthrough in health,” enthuses Fabien Saint.
But the two inventors are already dreaming of other applications: such as the detection of pollution at sea. Cyrille Chaidron began to be invited to international robotics conferences, notably in Prague last fall. “I never thought my dreams of confinement would take me this far from my home world,” he laughs. The researcher remains above all a specialist in ancient Roman ceramics, let us remember!