Last year scientists at UMass Amherst, led by biologist Duncan Irschick, created their Beastcam Array, a rapid-capture, field-portable tabletop system for making high-resolution, full-color 3D models of living organisms. Now Irschick’s team plans to use it in an ambitious effort to create 3D models of many living organisms, including those that face threat of extinction. Two undergraduates from the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department were instrumental in the creation of Beastcam, which has attracted national media attention since its inception. See recent media articles: ECN magazine, Phys.org, Laboratory Equipment, New Atlas, News Office release. See articles from early in 2016: Boston Globe, NBC News, 3ders.org, Phys.org, Gizmodo.com, Gizmodo India, News Office release, Deccan Herald [India], Gizmag, Business Standard, Digitaltrends.com, Yahoo.com.
Zachary Corriveau, a senior mechanical engineering major from Monson, Mass., who participated in the Beastcam research, says, “Our goal was to build a system that could be taken anywhere in the world.”
Kasey Smart, a former mechanical engineering student from Shrewsbury, Mass., also involved in the research, adds, “We realized that this technology represented an opportunity to create 3D models of a wide range of living organisms, which had never been done before.”
According to the UMass News Office, the Beastcam Array currently consists of 10 fixed arms, each of which can mount three G-16 Canon cameras for a 30-camera array. Small animals placed in the array’s center can be quickly and conveniently modeled in 3D by the cameras aided by software. Using this technology, Irschick and colleagues have created a new multimedia platform they call “Digital Life,” and have already created 3D models of sharks, scorpions, toads, and lizards
In coming months, they hope to use the Beastcam Array, funded in part by the National Science Foundation and developed at UMass Amherst’s Center for Evolutionary Materials, to create 3D models of two groups facing significant survival threats: frogs and sea turtles.
The Beastcam Array has advanced the state of the art, Irschick says. It captures high-resolution images and, with off-the-shelf software, can create 3D models of small animals. It can be scaled to smaller or larger sizes to scan a wide range of organisms.
Irschick says the team initially created the technology to create 3D models of Philippine skink lizards and similar animals, but they quickly realized the technology’s broader value.
“Live animals are hard to get 3D models of because they can be twitchy,” said Irschick, who studies functional morphology, or the relationship between the shape and function of an organism. “What the Beastcam does is allow us to create 3D models very rapidly.”
Smart said last January that “One of the advantages to our system is that cameras and mounting arms can be easily added and subtracted to customize it for many different uses and at different scales.” (November 2016)