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Undergrad Co-founds Widely Covered “Beastcam”

Kasey Packard Smart, an undergraduate researcher in our Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department, was a member of UMass Amherst biologist Duncan J. Irschick’s lab, which developed “Beastcam,” a multi-armed platform of cameras and a computer system that can rapidly and easily create 3D models of living animals and other objects. Beastcam was co-founded by Irschick, UMass Amherst polymer scientist Al Crosby, Smart, and Smart’s fellow undergraduate Dylan Briggs. Now Beastcam is attracting international media coverage, including an article in the Boston Globe and a segment on NBC News. See additional coverage: 3ders.org, Phys.org, Gizmodo.com, Gizmodo India, News Office release, Deccan Herald [India], Gizmag, Business Standard, Digitaltrends.com, Yahoo.com.

As the NBC report said, “If you're a biologist looking to capture a 3D image of the critters you study, it pays to have a system that works fast — and works the first time. After attempted scans of a shark turned out ‘atrocious,’ biologist Duncan Irschick and his colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Amherst decided to build their own to make sure that never happened again.” 

The camera system, which looks like a four-legged spider, was completed in September. In a UMass Amherst News Office release, Smart said that “One of the advantages to our system is that cameras and mounting arms can be easily added and subtracted to customize it for many different uses and at different scales.”

Briggs added that “We have been able to create accurate 3D models of a range of objects, including human-sized objects in less than 30 seconds, and car-sized objects in about 45 seconds.”

Irschick said that “Once you make a 3D model of an object, you can modify it, conduct experiments with it, animate it, or even send it to a 3D printer for testing different designs.”

According to the UMass News Office, Irschick explained that, over the past decade, there has been increasing interest in developing new ways of capturing 3D models of everyday objects and settings such as crime scenes, historical reconstruction, museum specimens, landscapes, and archaeological digs, among others. Irschick said that a key advantage of the Beastcam technology lies in its ability to scale up to a range of sizes, which opens up new opportunities for creating 3D models from myriad subjects.

The Globe article noted that, with the help of his three colleagues, Irschick came up with Beastcam, comprised of four cameras on adjustable arms connected to a small computer. In seconds, it can collect photos needed to help produce three-dimensional models.

“Live animals are hard to get 3D models of because they can be twitchy,” said Irschick, who studies functional morphology, or the relationship between the shape and function of an organism. “What the Beastcam does is allow us to create 3D models very rapidly.”

The Globe said that the camera array can be held at different angles around an animal. The device uses standard cameras but can shoot 40 to 60 photos in just 15 to 20 seconds.

Once the high-resolution images are stored, Irschick and fellow researchers can use a variety of software to build 3D models of the animals. They could also make the models on a 3D printer, although they haven’t done so yet.

The NBC report explained that current scanning systems, such as laser scanners or CT scanners, are typically slow, and they often require bulky and expensive machinery.

As Irschick observed in the UMass news release, "Faster and less expensive alternatives typically are not of a sufficiently high resolution to create detailed models, especially over a short time span. So we created the Beastcam using off-the-shelf materials to provide a portable, fast, easy-to-use, high quality, and low-cost system." 

Read New Office article

(January 2016)