Forbes reports that Professor Kenneth Lacovara at Drexel University is heading up the new endeavor, which taps the rapid 3-D prototyping and modeling capabilities of machines like the Maker Bot to learn more about how dinosaurs actually lived. To make the models, Lacovara takes a 3-D scan of a dinosaur fossil and uses the data to render a model of the dinosaur bone in question, which is then printed out. He then repeats the process till he's printed out every bone.
3-D printing technology can serve a number useful functions for paleontologists. It can be used to make new life-sized replicas of dinosaur skeletons for museum display as well as to print small, scale models for educational purposes. Even cooler, though, is Lacovara's plan to turn the 3-D models into robots so that he can test theories about how dinosaurs moved when they were alive. Lacovara points out that everything we know about the posture and movement of dinosaurs is pure speculation.
Lacovara has teamed up with another scientist to help him design the robotic components for the models, and they say that by the end of the year they'll have a working robotic dinosaur limb to try out. The hope is that by building robotic models, Lacovara and his colleagues can see if the theories about dinosaur movement that work on paper would be physically possible in real life. No word on when we'll see a giant functioning Tyrannosaurus rex robot, but we can always dream.