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Laser Design Inc.


3-D Scan of 3-Million-Year-Old Horse Skull

Published: Thursday, August 18, 2011 - 16:20

(Laser Design Inc.: Minneapolis) -- The National Park Service’s Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument in Idaho contains the largest concentration of Hagerman Horse (Equus simplicidens) fossils in North America. It is nationally and internationally significant for its world-class paleontological resources that include the world’s richest fossil deposits, in terms of quality, quantity, and diversity, from the late Pliocene epoch. Many of its fossils represent the last vestiges of species that existed before the last Ice Age, the Pleistocene, and the earliest modern flora and fauna.

The National Park Service paleontologists at the Fossil Beds were curious about the technology of 3-D scanning but had never used it in their research. They were interested in finding out more about its educational applications and how their research could benefit from its use. Fortuitously, while attending a conference, one of the paleontologists experienced 3-D scanning firsthand because Laser Design Inc. and GKS Services Corp. were performing demonstrations of 3-D scans. That paleontologist had brought along a 3-million-year-old horse skull and was able to have GKS scan the skull with the portable Laser Design Surveyor FA system.

The Surveyor FA system consisted of a seven-axis FARO Quantum 8 ft arm with the Laser Design high-accuracy SLP-500 noncontact laser probe. The horse skull artifact was approximately 24 in. long × 10 in. wide × 10 in. high. Scanning time took about 30 minutes. The 3-D scan captured myriad details of the object’s profile, including minute fossils embedded in the bone along with each individual horse tooth. Laser Design’s proprietary scanning software, ScanControl, and Geomagic software were used to scan, refine, and create a stereolithographic (STL) model for viewing and measuring. This type of file can also be used for reverse-engineering the object with rapid prototyping systems.

The noncontact Surveyor 3-D laser scanning system’s patented line-laser probe technology dramatically reduces scanning time by collecting data significantly faster and more accurately than other technologies. Because the laser scanning system projects a line of laser light onto surfaces while cameras continuously triangulate the changing distance and profile of the laser line as it sweeps along, the problems of missing data on irregularly shaped surfaces is greatly reduced. The system measures fine details and captures complex, free-form geometry so that the object can be exactly replicated digitally.

3-D scanning is an invaluable tool for paleontologists and archaeologists because it is fast, ultra-accurate, and nondestructive. Nothing physically touches the fossil except the safe laser light. The data collected by the Laser Design Surveyor system are extremely detailed, allowing for thorough inspection of the artifact. Because the scan captures objects from every angle, the data can be rotated 360° to measure, manipulate, magnify, and compare dimensions in 3-D for educational and research purposes.

The digital data can be shared amongst researchers and students worldwide, allowing access to valuable resources in the global scientific community without having to ship priceless artifacts to other locations. Alternately, if an actual physical model is needed, the data can be used to create an exact replica of the fossil, and that can be sent to researchers in lieu of the valuable fossil itself. The applications of 3-D scanning technologies to researchers are virtually limitless.


About The Author

Laser Design Inc.’s picture

Laser Design Inc.

Laser Design Inc. has been a leading developer, supplier, and supporter of ultraprecise, 3-D laser scanning systems and measurement services for more than 30 years. Its Surveyor line of automated and portable 3-D laser scanning systems capture the 3-D shape of objects with complex geometries and free-form surface data for inspection, analysis, and reverse engineering with precision, speed, and accuracy. Laser Design operates GKS Global Services, an in-house service division offering complete 3-D scanning, reverse engineering, and dimensional inspection services using top-of-the-line Laser Design systems as well as traditional, portable, and CT scanners.