3D Imaging to Document Dinosaur Tracks

LiveScience has an article for us about the technology researchers are using to record fossilized dinosaur tracks – scanning lasers that collect data making it possible to reconstruct a 3D image of the tracks. Getting good images of the fossilized tracks is important because they’ll erode away after they’re uncovered.  

With the help of cutting-edge technology, researchers in Arkansas are unveiling new information about the dinosaurs that existed there 120 million years ago.

What looked like giant potholes in the middle of bedrock terrain in southwest Arkansas has been uncovered as fossilized dinosaur tracks. Now thanks to high-tech light scanner technology, scientists from the University of Arkansas are learning more about the biomechanics and behaviors of the extinct species that once occupied the area by taking 3-D images to record the tracks….

To map the area, Williamson attached a Z+F Imager 5006i scanner, which emits a constant beam of laser light, to a cherry picker. The device then swept across the landscape to measure and record data up to 500,000 points for each second. [Read: 10 Inventions That Were Ahead of Their Time]

The second unit, used to record an overview of the site from above, is a time-of-flight scanner called Leica ScanStation C10. It incorporates discrete pulses of laser light at a rate of 50,000 for each second, recording a point for each in space. This allows researchers to study a three-dimensional “point cloud” representing the tracks.

With these tech tools, the researchers can view a highly accurate map of the site’s dinosaur tracks and take detailed measurements of the height, width and depth of individual tracks, as well as measurements of the trackways. Not only does the technology take precise measurements of the entire area with easy and speed, it also captures minor details of the tracks…

The team looks at where the tracks are located in relation to each other: “Some would be in groups and others would be by themselves. Taking these scans helps uncover more information about what the dinosaurs were doing, whether they were chasing or hunting or just walking along,” Williamson added…

In addition, the tracks help scientists learn information about the frequency of rain and amount of evaporation that once affected the site.

“The air temperature was hot. The water was shallow and very salty,” Boss noted. “Picture an environment much like that of the shores of the Persian Gulf today. It was a harsh environment. We’re not sure what the animals were doing here, but clearly they were here in some abundance.”

Now we wait 10 years for them to build this into smartphones (or the 2020 equivalent)… 3D recording for all!


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