3D Printing of Fossil Bones Will Help Paleontologists Build a Robot Dinosaur

Robot DinosaurPaleontologists are wanting to use 3-D printers to recreate dinosaur bones based on the real fossils. Using a laser to scan the fossil bones of a dinosaur they will create a scaled down copy of the fossil dinosaur bone.

The paleontologists are telling the 3-D printing computer to make a one-tenth-scale model of the dinosaur fossil, so they can attach artificial muscles and tendons. The original stone made humerus bone weighs 800 lbs, while the resin model will weighs less than an ounce. Paleontologist Kenneth Lacovara joked, “I can’t pick up a 1,100-pound femur and see how it articulates with a 400-pound tibia and 150-pound fibula; not without getting a hernia at least.”

The 3D process works by shaping thin layers of resin to build up the object. A six-inch model of a dinosaur bone can take only a few hours to print.

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

Having a scaled down “dino-bots” will help Paleontologist Kenneth Lacovara based at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania study how the 60 to 80 ton dinosaurs stood, walked and reproduced. He said in a press release, “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.”

“It’s great because I physically can’t lift up and piece together the bones. It’s this new frontier in paleontology,” he told InnovationNewsDaily. He added, “We’re hitting the point where we’re going to be able to study extinct creatures in the same way a biologist can study a raccoon or tuna. It’s going to go beyond informed guesswork to testable hypotheses.”

The team is hoping to have a replicated dinosaur robot within the next year of two. Lacovara says they’ll be able to model other systems with the 3D printer such as the respiratory and vascular systems. This will finally let scientists figure out some questions paleontology has including one that has has them stumped for years, Can sauropods lift their heads into the air?

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