Jurassic Robots

Last week, in honor of President’s Day, I went to Disneyland with the kids.  Space Mountain is more than a ride, it’s a ritual. The same day we took flight, Time Magazine profiled a new study of how paleontologists are using robots to recreate dinosaurs, which more sounds like a theme park exhibit than science.

At Drexel University, paleontologist Dr. Kenneth Lacovara is teaming up with mechanical engineer James Tangorra, to use 3D printing to recreate dinosaurs from scanned fossil bones.  This breakthrough will enable scientists to answer many burning questions, such as how a T-Rex could run down its prey while weighing over 8 tons, or how could a Brontosaurus that rises two and half stories high lay an egg?  According to Lacovara, “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.”

Previously,  paleontologists either manhandled 100 foot bones (not an easy task) or built a life-size skeletal model of the creatures.  However, even Cary Grant had trouble when the whole thing came tumbling down.  Just as movies moved to technolocolor, so has paleotology.  Today by using scanning technology and 3D print replication the building blocks of the Jurassic Age are popped out in a matter of hours. By developing a 1/10th scale of the massive beasts, computers then model the actual movements and positions of the dino-monsters to determine stresses and strains to the skeletal structure to recreate their gaits. Before teaming up with Lacovara, Dr. Tangorra worked on robotic fish to study the fluid mechanics of aquatic life.

However, John Hammond will have to wait a few years before re-opening his park, as the Drexel team is two years away from birthing their first Sauropod.  Until then, I invite our readers to visit Toys”R”Us Times Square (in New York City) where there is a 20 ft. robotic t-rex on display (just two floors above RobotGalaxy).

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