Dr. Kenneth Lacovara didn’t realize the impact that he could potentially make in paleontology when he first approached fellow Drexel University professor James Tengorra. Lacovara, a paleontologist, was looking for a more efficient way to study dinosaur bones. The standard method is to create a mold, but molds are generally 5 times as big as the actual fossil and are liable to degrade quickly – neither of which is terribly advantageous when studying an already-massive dinobone. Tengorra, a mechanical engineer, suggested using the fossils to create proportional, but smaller and easier-to-handle, mini-dinosaur robots. The team plans to make models of the bones using three-dimensional printers, then put these bones together to create a scaled-down dinosaur. Physical features of the actual fossils gives clues about how these ancient beasts moved, and Lacovara and Tengorra hope that this information will translate from the bones to the robots. They will use simulation software, already being used to study human bones, to hypothesize how the dinosaur skeletal systems worked. This is, in effect, one of the few ventures into the growing but still limited field of “experimental paleontology.” The plan is to produce a working robotic dinosaur limb by the end of 2012, with a complete scaled-down replica of a dinosaur coming in 2013 or 2014. The ultimate product will hopefully resemble the real thing—let’s just hope they don’t go “Jurassic Park” on us!
See the Drexel University press release at Drexel Now.