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3D Printing dinosaurs

3D printing. It’s one of those futuristic technologies that seems like it’ll revolutionize absolutely everything, but most people couldn’t tell you how it works.

From medicine, to construction, to space travel, it seems like it can do everything, and you can add paleontology to its impressive to-do list.

Dinosaur bones are hard to get ahold of, and even harder to get out of the ground intact, but thanks to 3-D printer, you can at least hold a scale model of one in your hand.

The video above is from the American Museum of Natural History, which gave students a hands-on chance to look the prehistoric artifacts over, and the Smithsonian has done the same.

So it’s got amazing educational potential, but what about new discoveries?

Being able to scan and print scale models of dinosaur bones would improve accessibility, for one. It’s easier to send such a model to a colleague elsewhere in the world, rather than risk shipping an actual specimen, and risking damage when its protective casing is removed. It would also help fill in broken or missing pieces, which is how the technology was used to identify one fossil in a German museum that was damaged during the Second World War.

But some scientists, like this one at Drexel University in the United States, have other, more ambitious plans: Eventually print out whole limbs, including musculature, and eventually a full dinosaur model.

It’s not an idle exercise. With smaller scale models, scientists can fit bones together in ways that just aren’t possible with real fossils, and get a much better sense of how these creatures moved and lived in the real world.

Kirobo the space robot

From the prehistoric past to the not-so-distant future, we have Kirobo. Simply, it’s an actual functioning robot, designed to actually hold a conversation with a human being, rather than parrot back pre-recorded responses.

Supposedly Japan’s first “robot astronaut” (come on, you knew it was going to be from Japan), Kirobo isn’t just a toy. Jointly developed by Toyota and Tokyo University, the little guy is designed to pick up on human facial expressions, and interact with the International Space Station’s human crew.

We wouldn’t say it’s self aware. It can comprehend a question, then put together a logical response based on a pre-programmed vocabulary, but it’s not a true AI.

Still, its purpose on the ISS – it was blasted up in August – was to serve as a companion to Koichi Wakata, the station’s Japanese commander. In larger terms, Kirobo’s interactions with Wakata were a test of how well humans and robots interact, and the results could pave the way toward new advances in robot-human communication.

Also, watching it learn how to function in a low-gravity environment was fun:

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