3D printing to build robotic dinosaur models

mone8 February 22, 2012 Comments Off

Drexel University is starting to create 3-D scans of fossils to better study the motion of giant dinosaurs through small-scale robotic models.

Drexel University researchers create a 3-D scan of the humerus bone from a Paralititan, one of the largest sauropod dinosaurs ever found.

Drexel University researchers create a 3-D scan of the humerus bone from a Paralititan, one of the largest sauropod dinosaurs ever found.

(Credit:
Drexel University)

Rather than using plaster and pickaxes, paleontologists are now digitizing ancient fossils.

Drexel University yesterday detailed an initiative to use three-dimensional printing to create models of dinosaur bones for further study. Researchers hope that models will allow them to study how dinosaurs moved and help create smaller robotic models of giant dinosaurs.

Paleontologist Dr. Kenneth Lacovara has started doing 3-D scans of giant dinosaur bones and, with a collaborator, is building scale models of complete skeletons. The process works by extruding very thin layers of resin or another material to slowly build up an object. A six-inch model of a dinosaur bone takes a few hours to print.

Since the scan creates a digital model of fossils, they can be reproduced for museums or research relatively easily in different sizes.

Lacovara hopes that scaled-down models of giant dinosaurs will yield some insight into how they moved around or reproduced. It would be impossible to use full-size bones in the study of giant dinosaurs which could have weighed 60 to 80 tons, he said.

The Drexel team plan to build robotic models of giant sauropod dinosaurs with artificial muscles and tendons for their tests, drawing on work done on robotic fish.

“We extract features from biological species and create software-based or robotic testing systems. It’s easier to test a biorobotic model than a biological system,” James Tangorra, a mechanical engineer and assistant professor who is collaborating on the Drexel project, said in a statement.

They hope to have a robotic dinosaur limb by the end of this year and complete replica within two years.

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