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Real insects against their accurate digital 3D model counterparts.
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Insect scanning process
Tthe three main steps to create a natural-colour 3D model of a specimen.
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the three main steps to create a natural-color 3D model of specimen.
A real wheat weevil versus its digital 3D counterpart.
Scientists have used 3D scanning technology to create realistic models of insects.
This pioneering and cost-effective technique uses off-the-shelf hardware and succeeds in capturing a 3D likeness of the beast, allowing entomologists to make accurate recordings of various insects.
The study published in PLOS ONE by Dr Chuong Nguyen and his team from CSIRO in Australia demonstrates how scientists pieced together 3D images of insects using multiple 2D images taken with a DSLR camera.
"High resolution 3D scans," the paper states, "as well as being useful as versatile replicas, also have the potential to act as a common frame of reference for other data relating to the original insect such as annotations, auxiliary image collections and measurements. These additional aspects are vital for the ways taxonomists convey the various morphological characters that distinguish a new species from those previously discovered."
Traditional 2D methods of capturing the accurate shape and appearance of an insect often lacks the precise detail of the real specimen. The study's development of digitising insects for research resulted in the creation of a cost-effective prototype that produces 3D digital models in their natural colour of insects ranging from 3-30 mm in length with hardware and software that are readily available. The prototype captures colour images of the insect from various angles using a DSLR camera and a two-axis turntable. The stills are then combined into 3D reconstructions.
Dr Nguyen stated: "These 3D models represent high quality visualisations of physical specimens that will enable novel solutions to quickly extract, analyse and share rich information. The 3D models are of great value for biodiversity discovery, species identification, quarantine control and unlocking big data in our biological collections."
The paper does not mention whether 3D printing technology will be used in future attempts to bring these 3D models to life, but that authors are satisfied the new system is safe, affordable and reduces the need to handle or ship delicate specimens. Moreover, the research team hopes the technology will open up new opportunities for research data collection, education, art, entertainment and biodiversity assessment and control.
Another institution currently undergoing a major 3D scanning project is the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, which announced at the beginning of the year that it is using 3D scanning to complete an ambitious project to gather digital versions of its entire 137 million-piece collection, enabling the public, schools and colleges to access accurate scans of its collection from practically anywhere in the world without risking any damage to the original.