When studying wild animals such as sharks, it can be difficult to get ahold of one every time you want to check something out. Having a 3D model of the creature would certainly help, although getting a shark to sit still for several minutes while being scanned could be quite the challenge. That's why a University of Massachusetts Amherst team led by biologist Duncan J. Irschick created the portable, quick-scanning Beastcam.
The sub-10-lb (4.5-kg) Beastcam consists of multiple cameras mounted on flexible arms, connected to a battery pack and a tablet computer. The number of cameras varies, depending on the desired resolution and the size of the subject.
Users simply pass the Beastcam over the animal in question, capturing multiple photos of it from a variety of angles. As with other 3D scanners, software is then used to combine those images into a single cohesive digital 3D model. Scientists can subsequently study/manipulate that model on their computer, or they can feed it into a 3D printer to create a physical model.
According to Irschick, the Beastcam offers higher resolution than other portable camera-based 3D scanners, while it's considerably quicker, smaller and less expensive than most laser scanners. It can scan human-sized objects in under 30 seconds, and car-sized objects in about 45. Additionally, it's claimed to be easy to scale the system up and down.
Irschick is presently using the Beastcam prototype to image geckos in his lab (he's one of the inventors of the bio-inspired Geckskin adhesive), and hopes to use it on sharks in Florida this spring. He was originally inspired to create the device after having difficulty conducting 3D scans of sharks last year.