Dec 2, 2015 | By Alec

Dolphins are some of the most fascinating creatures in the world, largely because they are such intelligent and social creatures that enjoy playing and fooling around with humans. But how do they actually see us, or other objects for that matter? Being underwater creatures, dolphins largely get by with fantastic hearing, and can even determine the shape of objects through echoes created by their own noise. Dolphin specialists from Miami and the United Kingdom have now been able to capture that imaging technique – called echolocation – and have 3D printed the results of a dolphin ‘looking’ at a human through their echoes.

Researchers create first 3D print of a human being using Dolphin Echolocation - "What a Dolphin Saw!"

This remarkable work is being done by the dolphin specialists from SpeakDolphin, a research initiative and non-profit organization that aims to expand communication between dolphins and humans. It was founded by husband and wife team Jack and Donna Kassewitz in 2000, and has already resulted in a number of interesting breakthroughs and publications.

But surely this must be the most impressive of all. ‘We’ve been working on dolphin communication for more than a decade,’ explained Jack Kassewitz. As he explains, dolphin hearing is so good, that sounds alone are enough for dolphins to identify a lot of detailed objects through echolocation. It is one of the reasons why blindness isn’t a big disability for the ocean dwellers. ‘When we discovered that dolphins not exposed to the echolocation experiment could identify objects from recorded dolphin sounds with 92% accuracy, we began to look for a way for to see what was in those sounds,’ he explains.

The Kassewitz team enlisted the help of John Stuart Reid, the inventor of sonic imaging tool CymaScope, to see what they could achieve with sound recordings of dolphins. ‘[It is] the first scientific instrument that can give us a visual image of sound and vibration - a cymatic image - helping us to understand our world and universe in ways previously hidden from view,’ the inventor says of this tool. It allows the user to transform sonic vibrations on the surface of water into visual images. ‘When a dolphin scans an object with its high frequency sound beam, each short click captures a still image, similar to a camera taking photographs. Each dolphin click is a pulse of pure sound that becomes modulated by the shape of the object,’ Reid explains.

In essence, he argues, the dolphins are using a 3D scanner, so why shouldn’t we? Reid used these echolocation recordings to capture clearly identifiable 2D images, with the recordings being made of a dolphin determining the location of a flowerpot, a cube, a plus + symbol and a human being. These images where subsequently taken to industry giant 3D Systems, who stitched the 2D images together to form a single 3D printable . vrml file. 3D printed on the company’s signature Projet 660 3D printer, the dolphin’s vision was brought to life in full color.

The dolphin specialists were absolutely thrilled with the results. ‘We were thrilled by the first successful print of a cube by the brilliant team at 3D Systems,’ they said. ‘But seeing the 3D print of a human being left us all speechless. For the first time ever, we may be holding in our hands a glimpse into what cetaceans see with sound. Nearly every experiment is bringing us more images with more detail.’

So what’s next for the dolphin researchers? While this 3D printed, tangible proof of what dolphins see and how they communicate is cool, they are now trying to find out how these echolocation images are shared among dolphin society – what their linguistic function is. A television documentary about this amazing concept is also being developed by Michael Watchulonis and David Albareda. ‘The scientific rigor and ingenuity that took Kassewitz’s team from visual communication experiments to a 3D print of a human being is mind blowing,’ filmmaker Watchulonis said. ‘It’s a story filled with twists and turns and eureka moments on their mission to connect with some of our planet’s most intelligent creatures. We can’t wait to bring it to the screen.’



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Kimberly wrote at 12/8/2015 1:32:51 AM:

I think its hilarious that scientists go on to presume they know how animals see, feel, and think.

Fishy Freddie wrote at 12/3/2015 6:37:10 PM:

I bet they see alot more detail than that including bone and body organs.

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