3D Scanning Meets the Museum at the Smithsonian

3D Printing & Imaging

This week at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. there was a happy merging of hundreds of people in the 3D scanning world and museum world. We gathered to see presentations from so many experts in these fields, including folks from Autodesk, 3D Systems, the Smithsonian and many other museums. We learned about the Wright Flyer, ancient weapons, whale and dolphin fossils, a CT scan of an Embreea orchid and Eulaema bee, and a killer whale hat.


The keynote speaker was Paul Debevec, an amazing digital inventor from USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies. His technology powers special effects in many Hollywood productions like the background replacement for The Matrix’s bullet-time effect, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and the awesome face replacement of the Na’vi in Avatar.


In the Castle building, there was a tech gallery set up with exhibitors. One thing that caught my eye was the new 3D Systems scanner, the Sense. I had heard about it last week, but I got to try it out!  I’ve used high-end scanners like the Artec, F5, and Faro Arm and consumer scanners like the Kinect and Asus Xtion Pro. The first three are out of the typical maker’s price range, but the Kinect and Xtion Pro are much cheaper but don’t come with software. The Sense enters in to the consumer market on Monday at $399 and comes with software to run it, which was very pleasant and intuitive to use. Here’s a video I took through Glass of me using the scanner and the software for my first time:

YouTube player

The panel of experts spoke for an hour after lunch.  The panel included people like Adam Metallo and Vince Rossi from the Smithsonian digitization team, Michael Raphael from Direct Dimensions, Ping Fu from 3D Systems, Brian Matthews from Reality Capture at Autodesk.  There was a Q&A session, where people discussed things from file formats, incorporation of scanning tech into other museums, and copyright.


One of my favorite parts of the tech gallery was when I got to use the Occulus Rift to explore a 3D scanned environment. I wandered around Liang Bua, a limestone cave which is on the Indonesian island of Flores. I fell down the excavation pit and the system had to be reset.


The Smithsonian launched the Smithsonian x3d Explorer in conjunction with Autodesk to allow anyone to view pieces from their collection in 3D in a web browser. It is certainly worth checking out. There’s not a ton of models up there yet, but scans like the dolphin fossil and bee are quite interesting. I also learned about Autodesk Recap Photo, which is an upgraded revamped version of 123D Catch. It’s free right now, and from my understanding has some better math behind it to produce more accurate scans.


At the reception in the evening I saw these two pieces of a whale skeleton which was 3D printed from scan data. The plan is for the museum to recreate the entire fossil, at full scale. It will be on display at the museum and people will be allowed to touch it.  


Dessert at the reception was provided by The Sugar Lab. They made edible sugar 3D prints of the Embreea orchid. They tasted a bit chalky, but much better than eating an orchid.


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Usually in Baltimore

Digital Fabrication/3d printing specialist, hacker, maker, entrepreneur member of the Baltimore Node hackerspace UMBC 2007 Mechanical Engineering graduate tournament Go and Foosball player 3d modeling since 1997

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