by Harold Sorto November 17, 2016

This Blog Post is from Our Friends at 3Ders and it was Written by Benedict - 

Staff at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst have started Digital Life, a new project aimed at cataloging digital 3D models of every living species on Earth. The experts believe that 3D scanning offers a way to guarantee the preservation of endangered species threatened by extinction.

By creating, sharing, and encouraging further contributions of high-quality and accurate 3D models of living organisms, Digital Life is aiming to preserve the heritage of life on Earth. Like a Noah’s Ark of digital 3D animals, the project aims to spur scientific discovery, support wildlife conservation, and create new opportunities in education, all under the roof of a non-profit organization committed to partnering with scientists, zoos, and NGOs to ethically gain access to the largest possible number of creatures. The generated 3D models will each be free to view online, functioning as a comprehensive educational tool for casual browsers and experts.

Using its own “Beastcam" technology, the Amherst team of photographers, engineers, modelers and scientists will obtain 3D models of every species they can find using a photogrammetry 3D scanning technique—taking several photos of each animal from multiple angles before collating the data into a 3D mesh. To take multiple images at once, the group’s “Beastcam" consists of 30 cameras rigged up on 10 arms, with the process taking one or two seconds. To capture animals that won’t sit still for that long, the team is attempting to speed up the cameras.

“Our breakthrough really was we designed this system for living animals, which hadn't been done before,” said Duncan Irschick, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. “Living animals vary in how large they are, and their shape and size is just so challenging. But we created a system that's very flexible, and it's portable, so you can take it out in the field.”

The first living creatures to be targeted by the Digital Life team are frogs and sea turtles, two animal groups under high threat of extinction. With over 4,000 frog species in the world, even covering that particular group represents a huge challenge, so the team plan to start with 40 or 60 species. Sadly, the group narrowly missed out on the chance to scan a Rabbs' fringe-limbed tree frog, the last of which died in September.

Through the new Digital Life project, the group of Amherst scientists—led by Irschick and comprised of award-winning wildlife photographers, biologists, engineers, 3D modelers and digital education specialists—hopes to become the leader in 3D modeling for natural subjects. The project currently has a number of sample models available for viewing, though the organizers hope to assemble a far more comprehensive and categorized collection as the project gathers steam.

While the Digital Life team believes its ambitious project can do a lot of good for academia and natural history, the Amherst team is realistic about the limits of the project: “A lot of animal species are threatened or going extinct, and obviously a 3D model is not going to bring them back from extinction,” Irschick added. “But it does showcase the animal in a new way.”

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Harold Sorto
Harold Sorto


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