FastSCAN integral part of Dinosaur and Early Hominid Research
Shared research between the Universities of Sheffield and Manchester is providing academics with an additional insight into the sphere of bio mechanics. The team is in receipt of two grants from the Natural Environment Research Council and National Geographic and is carrying out research into the locomotion of dinosaurs and early hominids.
Central to this research is the FastSCAN Cobra, the first laser scanner one can easily travel with and which sets up almost anywhere. It instantly acquires and presents three-dimensional surface data in real-time as light from the handheld laser scanning wand is swept over an object in a manner similar to spray painting. The object’s image then appears on the computer screen. As the FastSCAN provides real-time monitoring and control of the scan progress, it helps to ensure that even the most complex of scans is successfully achieved within a few minutes. Unlike other scanners, it automatically stitches the individual scans together, saving a great deal of time. The FastSCAN used by the research team was provided by Virtalis, the Virtual Reality specialists, who distribute the FastSCAN in the UK.
Dr. Bill Sellers, Integrative Vertebrate Biologist in the Faculty of Life Sciences at The University of Manchester, explained: “We are scanning the bones of dinosaurs and early species of man using the FastSCAN and building up detailed digital models of their skeletons. Once we have these digital models, we will then add muscles to them. For the early hominids like Australopithecus afarensis, Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis, we will add a level of musculature halfway between that of a human and a chimpanzee.
“Naturally, for the dinosaurs there is a greater level of interpretation required, but there are various software packages that allow you to try out different configurations until you reach a likely muscular skeletal structure. This is really science-based archaeology. Where our fossil material is incomplete, we attempt to alter the digital model, so we get as close as possible to the most likely evolutionary path the animal took. We use optimisation techniques to generate gait, enabling us to bring these creatures back to life and deduce how they would have moved. The questions we can ask at this stage include, how fast would they have moved, whether they could store energy in elastic structures, as well as what would their movements have looked like? The dinosaurs in Jurassic Park were not built up in this way, so that in real life, it is very likely they would have fallen over.”
In the past, members of the team had used fixed scanners to try and create a digital model of fossil remains. However, they found the process very slow, especially as other scanners are fixed, so all the fossils had to be taken to them rather than the other way about.
Dr. Sellers commented: “You soon get a feel of how to work within the transmitter area and avoid background noise. The resolution we achieved is easily 100 microns and we have found the software that comes with FastSCAN very reliable. It doesn’t crash like other systems we have tried. So far, we have scanned remains from famed early hominid, “Lucy”, (Austropithecus afarensis), and the later Homo erectus, as well as the Deinonychus and the Edmontosaurus, both dinosaurs. The scans we have offer use so much more than mere measurements. Our digital models contain the full surface detail and this will really help us when we get to the stage in the research where we add muscle. In addition, the FastSCAN has saved us a huge amount of time. Once the muscle has been added, we hope to answer crucial questions like how did Lucy walk? Was she? more like ourselves, or more like a chimpanzee?” Answers to questions like these could significantly advance research in palaoanthropology. By understanding at what stage in our evolution bipedalism came into being, so researchers can begin to determine at what stage in our development the upper body was free to carry tools.”
To find out more about how the University of Manchester has been using this technology to research how dinosaurs would have moved, visit the BBC Website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/6956867.stm
Manchester University Website: www.manchester.ac.uk
Sheffield University Website: www.sheffield.ac.uk