Digital Life project aims to create 3D models of all living animals

beastcam gecko
© Digital Life

Over the course of the Earth's history, many organisms have evolved and many have gone extinct. During the short era of human history, we've witnessed quite a few extinctions and although there are drawings and even the occasional photograph of some of these species, these animals will forever be a mystery.

Scientists believe we're heading into a time of a large number of extinctions thanks to climate change and human actions like poaching and deforestation. While we can hopefully make changes to prevent such a huge loss of animals, there will undoubtedly be species that cease to exist on this planet during our lifetimes.

Scientists at University of Massachusetts Amherst want to make sure that we aren't left without evidence and detailed information of the species currently living on Earth. The team has created a special camera array called the Beastcam that can rapidly capture high-resolution, full-color 3D models of living organisms. They will be using the Beastcam to eventually document every living thing on the planet, adding the models to a platform called Digital Life.

“We are excited to use the Beastcam technology to preserve the digital heritage of all life on Earth," said biologist Duncan Irschick. "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.”

The Beastcam Array uses state of the art photogrammetry equipment and was built to be completely portable for taking into the field and to be easily scaled up or down depending on the size of the organism. This ambitious project will ultimately document everything from micro-organisms to the blue whale, but for now, the team is focusing on animals that are easier to scan. The team has already created 3D models of some sharks, scorpions, toads and lizards, but their main focus right now is endangered amphibians and reptiles, namely frogs and sea turtles.

They are currently creating models of those species through a partnership with the National Science Foundation. The 3D models created through this project will be available at no cost on the Digital Life website for scientific, educational and conservation purposes for anyone to use, forever.

Digital Life project aims to create 3D models of all living animals
Scientists hope to use a special camera array to preserve the details of life on Earth, starting with endangered species.

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