I really didn’t think 3D printing could get any cooler. I mean, turning a file on a computer into a physical, three-dimensional object that you can hold in your hand? There’s not much that can add to the awe factor there.
Enter the dinosaur robots
Paleontologist Kenneth Lacovara has a plan to use 3D printing to create a robotic dinosaur based on laser scans of fossils. He recently purchased a laser scanner for his lab at the University of Michigan and is keeping his students busy scanning every important fossil he has.
The laser sweeps over the surface of the bone and gathers millions of data points that are sent to a laptop, which creates a 3D model of the fossil. They can then use a program to reshape the skull to its original state, as many fossils have gotten a little crushed and distorted over the last few million years. These 3D scans are a great way for paleontologists to create a digital fossil collection that can be easily shared with researchers across the world.
But let’s get back to those dinosaur robots. Using a 3D printer, those digital scans of fossils can be printed to make plastic replicas. Lacovara wants to use these replicas to build dinosaur robots in order to study how the animals moved. He’s working with James Tangorra, an engineer at the university who also has a 3D printer. Tangorra plans to print robotic muscles to attach to Lacovara’s replica bones.
They already know what dinosaur they’re going to make first: the limb of a sauropod, a large plant eater in the same family as Brontosaurs. The limb will be a scaled down version, as even his most strapping team of students would not be able to lift one full-sized.
Lacovara plans to replicate a form of evolution by trying out different configurations of bones to see which one is the most energy efficient. That configuration is most likely to be similar to the sauropod’s real one because apparently energy efficiency is pretty crucial when you weigh 60 tons.
Nothing can match these experiments in the physical world because no computer program can exactly replicate all of the math and physics of the real world.
While I will admit to being a little nervous that we could have a real life Jurassic Park situation on our hands, I can’t wait to see the first robot dinosaur in action. Tyrannosaurus Rex vs. Triceratops, anyone?
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