Researchers at the world-renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) came up with a novel solution when they found that their sophisticated 3D scanning equipment wasn't quite up to the huge task of scanning the giant jaw of a tyrannosaurus rex.
Forensic dentists obtained special permission to carry out a 3D scan of a T-rex skull at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, to try to understand the cause of some unusual holes in the beast's jawbone. But they quickly discovered that their high-resolution dental scanners couldn't handle such a large jaw, so they got in touch with the Camera Culture group at MIT's Media Lab for assistance.
The Media Lab has a prototype system for producing high-res 3D scans, but it wasn't ready to handle a job that big either. So the Camera Culture team considered an alternative approach, using off-the-shelf hardware and software.
Spending just $150 on hardware, and with the help of some free software, they were able to create a system capable of scanning the massive jaw of the mighty dinosaur. MIT News explained:
The system uses a Microsoft Kinect, a depth-sensing camera designed for video gaming. The Kinect’s built-in software produces a “point cloud,” a 3-D map of points in a visual scene from which short bursts of infrared light have been reflected back to a sensor. Free software called MeshLab analyzes the point cloud and infers the shape of the surfaces that produced it.
Their solution cost a fraction of the tens of thousands of dollars needed to purchase high-end commercial 3D scanners. Such expensive scanning equipment is obviously more capable, and offers a depth resolution of around 50 to 100 micrometers, compared with roughly 500 micrometers for the Kinect. Nonetheless, Microsoft's 3D sensor - which it originally released for its Xbox games consoles - still provided enough resolution to help the researchers get some answers.
Anshuman Das, a research scientist in the Camera Culture group, said he anticipates that this low-cost solution will prove invaluable to researchers around the world, including archaeologists and anthropologists. He said that with such affordable tools at their disposal, scientists will be able to immediately scan their discoveries as soon as they're uncovered in the field, and quickly share them with colleagues worldwide.