Biology

Digital Life aims to make a 3D scan of every animal species on Earth

Digital Life aims to make a 3D...
The Digital Life project is aiming to create 3D models of every single species of animal on Earth
The Digital Life project is aiming to create 3D models of every single species of animal on Earth
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A smaller, handheld version of the Beastcam array allows biologists to scan creatures that it can't in the lab, like sharks
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A smaller, handheld version of the Beastcam array allows biologists to scan creatures that it can't in the lab, like sharks
To reach its lofty goal, the team is using the Beastcam, an array of 30 cameras that snap photos simultaneously, before software stitches them together into a 3D model
2/3
To reach its lofty goal, the team is using the Beastcam, an array of 30 cameras that snap photos simultaneously, before software stitches them together into a 3D model
The Digital Life project is aiming to create 3D models of every single species of animal on Earth
3/3
The Digital Life project is aiming to create 3D models of every single species of animal on Earth
View gallery - 3 images

A recent study suggested that the total number of unique species that call Earth home may be as mind-bogglingly high as 1 trillion. Granted, the vast majority of those are microscopic organisms, but still, that number makes the Digital Life project's goal, to make 3D scans of every kind of living animal, sound ridiculously ambitious. Nevertheless, the team believes that digitally preserving the biodiversity of the planet is increasingly important.

To reach that lofty goal, scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst are using an array of 30 cameras they call the Beastcam. This contraption is made up of 10 fixed arms with three Canon G16 cameras attached to each one, and a platform in the middle for the subject to sit on, or where that's not possible, a more portable, handheld version can be passed over the animal to take the shot. All of the cameras take photos of the animal simultaneously, before off-the-shelf software stitches them together into a 3D model.

A smaller, handheld version of the Beastcam array allows biologists to scan creatures that it can't in the lab, like sharks
A smaller, handheld version of the Beastcam array allows biologists to scan creatures that it can't in the lab, like sharks

"We are excited to use the Beastcam technology to preserve the digital heritage of all life on Earth," says Duncan Irschick, the biologist leading the team. "This will take several lifetimes, but we are thrilled to begin the journey. Digitally preserving the heritage of life on Earth is especially important given the rapid decline of many species, and this technology can recreate organisms in a way that has never been done before."

So far, the Beastcam has mostly been used on creatures like toads, lizards, scorpions and sharks, but the team says it can be scaled up or down to cover a wide range of animals. That said, we can't really see it working on a blue whale or a protozoa in its current form.

Like the University of Washington project aiming to scan the skeletons of all 25,000 known fish species, Irschick and his team are planning to upload the models to an online repository at Digital Life, where they will be freely available for educational, creative and not-for-profit use.

To help expand the library, the team is working with zoos, scientists and other organizations to gain access to subjects for scanning, starting with an endangered species of frogs and sea turtles.

Source: University of Massachusetts Amherst

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3 comments
Larushka
This is awesome and commendable and exactly the type of useful research and data creation they should be working. That it will be freely available to the general public is exceptional.
Skeptical2024
Wait a minute! According to WWF, CBD, NatGeo, and other scientifically illiterate for-profit scaremongering organizations - half the world's species will be gone in the next 20 years so Beastcam better get on it! I mean in the 90s these same organizations were saying there are 1 million identified species on the planet with an estimated 10 million (9 million unidentified or found) and every day at least 100 species went extinct. That means all species on earth would be extinct within 27 years or 273 years if we went with the 10 million number. Now we have these organizations stating we likely have 10 TRILLION species on the planet but state "it might be tricky". Get those scans while you can, guys. You've got a lot of species despite their Malthusian doomsday prophesy to catalog!
Nelson
The way things are going in the Anthropocene the only wildlife left in the not too distant future will be these 3D scans.