Feb 17, 2017 | By Benedict

After more than 200 Leaellynasaura bone fragments were found in New South Wales, Australia, scientists are using 3D printing and virtual reality (VR) technology to bring the dinosaur "back to life" at the National Wool Museum in Geelong.

"Mr Hammond, the VR is working!": how the Leaellynasaura virtual reality experience will look

Over a period of just 12 days, palaeontologists digging near the Great Ocean Road in New South Wales have uncovered more than 200 pieces of bone belonging to the Leaellynasaura, a dinosaur native to Australia that roamed the land down under more than 110 million years ago. To contextualize the massive discovery, 3D printing and VR experts will now attempt to create an accurate 3D model of the dinosaur that can be 3D printed and also experienced virtually with a VR headset.

Although paleontologists can’t literally bring the Leaellynasaura back to life a la Jurassic Park, they can offer the next best thing: a detailed 3D printed model and a virtual reality animation of the long-tailed polar dinosaur. Life, as they say, finds a way. Mechatronics students from nearby Deakin University will examine the discovered bones to create a digital 3D model of the dinosaur, before printing it out for display at the National Wool Museum in Geelong.

How the Leaellynasaura might have looked 110 million years ago

Ben Hornan, head of the Deakin Virtual Reality Lab and co-founder of the project alongside industrial design lecturer Kaja Antlej, says that those taking part in the project will be looking to make the 3D printed dinosaur as realistic as possible, in order to successfully educate and entertain museum visitors. “We are doing experiments on how we can best print dinosaur-like skin so people will not just feel the geometry, the size, and the scale, but also the contour of the skin as well,” he told ABC.

To really bring the 3D printed dinosaur model to life, experts from the Deakin VR Lab are planning to create a special VR experience centered around the Leaellynasaura and the paleontological dig that resulted in the discovery of 200 pieces of bone. This VR experience will allow museum visitors to virtually jump into the site; when they reach down to touch the dinosaur bones they can see on their headset, their hands will touch the 3D printed model, complete with realistic skin texture.

Project founder Kaja Antlej holds a fossilized dinosaur tooth

That lifelike 3D printed skin will be based on the scales of an animal still alive today—whose exterior may closely match that of the extinct Leaellynasaura. “We have scanned an eastern blue tongue lizard and we're 3D printing the scales as best we can,” Hornan said. “Then we'll take that to the experts and handlers of blue tongue lizards, ask them which best represents the lizard, and then we'll just place that skin onto the dinosaur.”

The virtual reality Leaellynasaura experience will also allow visitors to see and follow a fully animated version of the dinosaur, which will wander around a virtual habitat based on parts of the Geelong Botanical Gardens. However, those working on the project have warned that getting too close to the dinosaur—a notoriously shy creature—could scare it away!

Experts and volunteers alike take part in the dig

Leaellynasaura was discovered in 1989 by Australian paleontologists Patricia Vickers-Rich and Thomas Rich, and is named after their daughter Leaellyn. Vickers-Rich is hopeful that giving the Leaellynasaura the 3D printing and VR treatment will encourage Australians to engage with the vibrant natural history of their country. "I think what we're trying to do is wake up the Australian public to the fact that we have some really cool unique material here," she said. “Here in their own backyard they have the most wonderful little dinosaurs—and some big ones.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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