Rather than clone dinosaurs for the sake of opening a twisted, ill-fated theme park, Drexel University paleontologist Kenneth Lacovara is on the path to creating a pretty awesome alternative. By using 3-D printing technology, he and mechanical engineer James Tangorra are resurrecting replicas of these prehistoric creatures one scanned dinosaur bone at a time.
“Technology in paleontology hasn’t changed in about 150 years,” said Dr. Kenneth Lacovara. “We use shovels and pickaxes and burlap and plaster. It hasn’t changed — until right now.”
By using 3-D scans of dinosaur fossils, Lacovara is able to produce replicas which can in turn be displayed in museums or used as teaching aids. But that’s not even the coolest part. Once a like-for-like dino skeleton is printed, the two plan on pairing the 3-D models with robotics, allowing them to see how dinosaurs actually moved.
Up to this point the movement and habits of dinosaurs have been discerned from immobile, dug up remains. And what we see in movies is largely fictionalized, Hollywood interpretations. Pairing printed 3-D fossils with robotics will open up an entirely new understanding of how dinosaurs lived, as if they were around today.
“How did they stand?” mused Lacovara. “How did they ambulate? Did they run or trot? How did they reproduce? It’s all a bit mysterious.”
If you’re unfamiliar with the relative new advancement of 3-D printing, it isn’t what you think. Instead of images on paper, it involves layers of resin to create the replica fossils. What’s especially great about this method is that the resin models weigh significantly less. For example, the humerus fossil Lacovara is starting with weighs 800 lbs. In comparison, the resin model tips the scales at less than an ounce.
Lacovara is hoping to create a fully operational 3-D robotic dinosaur limb (with muscles and tendons) by the end of the year. After that, a full robotic dinosaur replica. Maybe an actual amusement park with roaming dinosaurs isn’t such a bad idea. How dangerous can robotic dinosaurs be?