3-D Scanning Technology Brings Past to Life at Smithsonian

Mammoth3-D printing (AKA additive manufacturing) is a hot topic, and for good reason: It’s exciting to think about a technology that allows us to create three-dimensional, solid objects using digital models. The process brings to mind buzzwords like cutting-edge, innovative, and advanced.

By contrast, the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest and most respected museum complex, is the opposite of what 3-D printing embodies: It’s a repository for historical artifacts, a place that documents the past, an institution that celebrates all things old.

But recently the Smithsonian launched a new project involving 3-D printing that allows the public to view old artifacts from a new perspective. The institution took 20 objects from its vast collection and digitized them. The digital models are available online, allowing people to view these objects from every possible angle. The Smithsonian has also made the data for each object available for free 3-D printing.

The project is called Smithsonian X 3D. Some of the digital models available include a woolly mammoth skeleton, Abraham Lincoln’s life mask, the Wright Flyer, and a Revolutionary War boat. For more background on the project, check out this NPR story. To see all of the digital models, visit the Smithsonian X 3D website.

With all of the talk surrounding 3-D printing being the great enabler of the future, it’s remarkable and refreshing to hear about this technology being applied to historically significant objects. The Smithsonian has implemented technology integration by acquiring data from lots of separate and diverse sources (wooden ship hulls, muslin fabric-laced wings) and created an input from that output to produce a three-dimensional representation of some very unique items.

Smithsonian X 3D involves technologies such as laser-based scanning and photo-based software solutions for data acquisition (the input). These two technologies are examples of the advancements in end-user functionality that lowers the level of know-how and cost for folks to get more value out of manufacturing technologies like 3-D printing.

AMT Technical Director Tim Shinbara contributed to this article.

Categories: Technology

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