Jan 13, 2016 | By Kira

With the goal of creating accurate 3D models of live sharks, geckos and other fast-moving animals, functional biologists from the University of Massachusetts Amherst used off-the-shelf-materials to put together a portable, high-speed, and low-cost 3D scanning system they are calling the Beastcam. Capable of 3D scanning car-sized objects in about 45 seconds, the user-friendly Beastcam can create high-quality 3D models of a wide variety of objects for research or 3D printing purposes.

For most people, catching even the slightest glimpse of a nose, tail, or that unmistakable floating fin would be a definitive sign to get out of the water A.S.A.P. Not so for biologist Duncan J. Irschick, a UMass Amherst professor who spends his springs and summers in Florida, trying to get up close and personal with sharks, and stay there as long as possible.

Unfortunately for Irschick, whose research purpose was to better understand sharks’ body shapes and movements and to compare them across species, sharks move very, very fast. His first attempt at creating a 3D model of the well-behaved yet wild beast using nothing but a single camera system was, in his own words, ‘atrocious’.

Irschick's first failed attempt at creating a 3D model of a life shark

Thus, in order to create accurate 3D models in a very limited amount of time, Irschick and his colleagues took matters into their own hands and designed their very own, high-speed, multi-armed, multi-camera tool—think of it as the Sharktopus of 3D scanners, if you will.

The resulting Beastcam features several cameras mounted onto flexible, adjustable and modular arms that can be placed in a variety of arrangements depending on your rapid 3D scanning needs. Weighing in at less than 10 pounds, the lightweight system includes a small computer tablet and battery, and can easily be transported from the home, studio, laboratory, or into the great outdoors.

According to the development team, one of strongest benefits of the Beastcam’s design and technology is that it can scale up to a range of sizes and thus be used to create 3D models of a wide variety of objects.

"One of the advantages to our system is that cameras and mounting arms can be easily added and subtracted to customize it for many different uses and at different scales,” said Kasey Smart an undergrad at UMass Amherst and co-inventor of the Beastcam. "We have been able to create accurate 3D models of a range of objects, including human-sized objects in less than 30 seconds, and car-sized objects in about 45 seconds."

The Beastcam’s cameras can capture between 2 to 4 photos each second, or 40 to 60 photos in 15 to 20 seconds. These overlapping images are then uploaded to various 3D modeling programs and used to quickly create 3D models for studying, research or 3D printing purposes.

"Once you make a 3D model of an object, you can modify it, conduct experiments with it, animate it or even send it to a 3D printer for testing different designs,” said Irshick, who is currently using the Beastcam to create 3D models of various gecko species in his lab.

Massive live lizard being 3D scanned in Irschick's laboratory

“The technique of creating 3D models from multiple photographic stills, known as photogrammetry, is not new, but it is rapidly emerging as a low-cost and accurate way to create 3D models,” he continued. “Current scanning systems, such as laser scanners or CT scanners, are typically slow, and often require bulky and expensive machinery. Faster and less expensive alternatives typically are not of a sufficiently high resolution to create detailed models, especially over a short time span. So we created the Beastcam using off-the-shelf materials to provide a portable, fast, easy-to-use, high quality and low-cost system."

Beyond his current research on living geckos, Irschick plans to return to Florida next spring to test out the Beastcam on the ultimate underwater beast. He added the he and his colleagues will also continue to improve the technology so that it can be readily applicable to a wider range of uses beyond living animals—though we can’t imagine a much cooler use than 3D scanning live sharks.

The Beastcam research and work was supported in part by the Human Frontiers Science Program, and was created as part of the Center for Evolutionary Materials at UMass Amherst. Alongside Irschick, Kasey Smart and fellow undergraduate Dylan Briggs are named as its co-inventors.



Posted in 3D Scanning



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