Paleontologist strives to create robotic dinosaurs via 3D printing
Earlier this month, Nature reported that Christoph Zollikofer, an anthropologist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, was using 3D printing to create replicas of Neanderthals. With these models, Zollikofer and his students can gain significant insight into this extinct species, as they can examine exact recreations that would otherwise be difficult to acquire.
As MSNBC recently highlighted, anthropologists are not the only scientists using 3D printing to learn about extinct creatures. Paleontologists are also making use of the technology.
Dinosaurs come alive
The news source reported that Kenneth Lacovara, a paleontologist at Drexel University in Philadelphia, uses 3D printing to create models of dinosaur fossils. Unlike Zollikofer and other researchers, though, Lacovara is not satisfied with collecting plastic models. Instead, his goal is to create dinosaur robots, which can then be used to study how the ancient animals lived and moved.
According to MSNBC, Lacovara is working with engineer James Tangorra to produce a robotic version of a sauropod's limb. They will use 3D scanning technology to capture the fossil and then reduce its size, making it manageable to handle. A full-sized limb would be impossible for even a team of researchers to lift, MSNBC noted.
Once the limb and other skeletal components have been printed, Lacovara will test various bone configurations to find the most energy efficient arrangement, as this will likely be the truest-to-life model. According to Lacovara, this is essentially similar to replicating the evolutionary process.
Another advantage of 3D scanning and printing technology is that it allows many scientists to study the same fossil, the news source noted. A file can be created and shared among researchers, who can then study the model and, if they possess the means, print out their own version.