History of the ATLAS Collaboratory Project

The ATLAS Collaboratory Project began as the result of the needs of the ATLAS Experiment at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. The need for collaboratory technologies to connect physicists and researchers around the world in this large-scale, high energy physics project led to the initial development of web lecture recording and viewing software and the subsequent collection of lectures.

In around 1997, a group of physicists and researchers at CERN and at the University of Michigan began developing software as part of a framework to foster collaborative learning around the globe. This group was called the Web Lecture Archive Project. In 1999 WLAP received funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation and the University of Michigan. The primary aim was "to examine the feasibility of using a software tool to record and archive slide-based lectures in a variety of situations."1

Notably, WLAP recording technology captured the presentations delivered by CERN REU (CERN Research Experience for Undergraduates) students, creating an archive of final presentations from 1999 forward. Additionally, the WLAP team captured ATLAS meetings and events, and captured some Saturday Morning Physics presentations at the University of Michigan. Hence, the archive now consists of Saturday Morning Physics lectures dating back to 2001.

The Earliest Technology (1999-2003)

Following the receipt of the pilot project grant from the NSF, early recordings were captured with a camera and operator. The finished product was a RealPlayer video, and was displayed using a piece of WLAP-created software called Sync-o-matic 3000.

The concept of the Lecture Object was proposed by Giosue Vitaglione in 2000. It applies to all lectures and presentations captured by the ATLAS Collaboratory Project to date. It is a standardized data object containing high-resolution, open format media files, timing data and standardized metadata (Dublin Core, IEEE LOM). Specifically, it is a directory that is given a specific naming pattern. The directory also contains a lecture.xml and a metada.xml file, as well as the associated media (videos, slides and other resources). It was designed for longevity, for sharing among multiple institutions and incorporated flexibility in viewing formats.2 The specifications were established in 2000 and updated in 2004.

Robotics Tracking (2003-Present)

In 2003 the ACP received a $250,000 grant from the NSF to develop a more automated recording, archiving and tracking system. The purpose was to scale up web lecture recording in a way that was portable, robust, affordable and easy to use with little setup time involved. The new system was to remove the need for a human camera operator, which could be expensive and taxing. After a period of investigation, ACP settled on the Infrared tracking system, which included a necklace chain of bright IR LEDs that are tracked by a separate camera.

The system runs with two cameras-- one is the Infrared tracking camera and the other is the recording camera, which is set to follow the infrared tracking camera. The speaker wears the infrared necklace, and the camera follows the necklace. In 2005, a patent was filed for the tracking system, and research and development continues from Ann Arbor.

Currently ACP is developing an ultrasound tracking system, which has advantages including no competing noise, low power consumption, and better tracking and zooming.

MScribe (2006-2008)

Following the successful advances made by WLAP and the new technology enabled by research in robotics tracking, The MScribe Pilot Project was established in Fall 2006 in partnership with several units and schools at the University of Michigan. During the MScribe project, ACP robotics tracking technology was used in the classroom for eight entire U-M courses. The project continued until May 2008, during which time the ways in which students used technology was studied.

During this time, Lecture Objects became available in Flash as well as RealPlayer, providing a second viewing option for lectures.

CARMA (2008-Present)

With the completion of the MScribe pilot in 2008, a more long-term lecture recording infrastructure was established with Campus Automated Rich Media Archiving (CARMA). CARMA began offering its services in August 2008. Since its conception, CARMA has made the technology and archives developed by the ACP available to members of the University of Michigan. CARMA offers its services at a minimal cost, and includes customers across the campus, from the Office of the Provost to the Institute for the Humanities, as well as the Physics Department, in which they are currently housed.

Growth of the UM-ACP Archive 2003-2008


Accomplishments of the ACP include the creation and development of technology and lecture object standards that make recording lectures and conferences lightweight and feasible. Additionally, ACP has allowed for the creation of the Michigan Archives, a collection that currently contains more than 2300 lectures with some of the most comprehensive material available on the subject of Physics. The development of these technologies has made it possible for individuals to share knowledge across the globe, and has aided in ATLAS's effort to be at the forefront of discovery in the field of high energy physics.


1Bousdira, Nora. "WLAP: The Web Lecture Archive Project. The Development of a Web-Based Archive of Lectures, Tutorials, Meetings and Events at CERN and at the University of Michigan." p. 5 2001 CERN-OPEN-2001-066

2Herr, Jeremy. "Web Lecture Archiving, Robotic Tracking Systems, and the Lecture Object"Shaping Collaboration 2006, Geneva. Presentation.