Paleontologists Building Robot Dinos with 3D Printed Bones

Evil masterminds bent on world domination take note: robotic dinosaurs are on the way

2 min read

Evan Ackerman is IEEE Spectrum’s robotics editor.

Paleontologists Building Robot Dinos with 3D Printed Bones

Robots and dinosaurs have not, historically, had the greatest of relationships, but that doesn't mean we don't all secretly (or not so secretly) want our own robot dinos to cuddle, ride around on, and provide security. Paleontologists have decided that they're going to try to build themselves anatomically correct and fully functional robot dinosaurs to investigate how the animals moved, and definitely not to enact any sort of evil world domination scheme. They promise.

Dinosaurs were big. Some of them were really, really big. Like, 75 metric tons big. This is about 15 times heavier than a large elephant, and we have no idea how animals of that size were able to move around effectively. We have some guesses, but in order to find out for sure, we'd have to either clone them (which we should totally do at some point because nothing could ever go wrong), or build an anatomically correct robotic replica.

Drexel University paleontologists are already hard at work making 3D scans of sauropod leg bones with the goal of having a working limb (complete with simulated tendons and muscle) running around by the end of 2012. The 3D scans will be fed into a 3D printer, which ought to be able to correct for millions of years worth of deformation caused by fossilization and compression when it prints out replica bones. With a complete musculoskeletal system to experiment on, the researchers hope to be able to figure out how giant dinosaurs were able to stand up, whether they could trot or canter or actually run, and also how they, you know, reproduced with each other.

Putting together a complete robotic dinosaur replica will take a couple years, and it's important to note that it'll just be a replica, and won't offer conclusive proof about how dinos did or didn't get around. But without a Jurassic Park to go visit, robot dinos seem like a good enough way to go, as long as we make sure not to outfit them with missiles and laser cannons and stuff.

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