A group of palaeontologists and engineers from Drexel University are aiming to scan fossilised dinosaur bones into computers and 3D print them in order to create perfectly proportioned dinosaur skeletons from the past. Essentially the aim is to re-create a scaled down identical model of a creature that wandered the earth 250 million years ago.
Mechanical engineer James Tangorra and palaeontologist Kenneth Lacovara, also an associate professor at the Philadelphia-based university have teamed up for the project. The idea is to use rapid prototyping technology in order to advance the study of dinosaur behaviour – essentially building robotic models of dinosaurs.
“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 said in a statement.
Lacovara has a history of discovering some of the largest known sauropod dinosaur specimens, such as the new species of Paralititan stomeri in Egypt in 2000. These giants weighed around 60-80 tons which has meant it has been extremely testing to test the theories on the mechanics of how they might have functioned and behaved during their time on earth.
But thanks to 3D printing, Lacovara and his team can build (scaled-down) replicas of the exact shape and proportion of the dinosaur’s skeleton. Lacovara explains: “We don’t know a lot about the way dinosaurs move. How did they stand? How did they ambulate? Did they run or trot? How did they reproduce? It’s all a bit mysterious.”
The process works by extruding very thin layers of resin or another material to slowly build the replica bone. According to the research so far a six-inch model of a bone will take only a few hours to print. The hope is to have a robotic dinosaur by the end of 2012 and a complete replica of a dinosaur by 2014.