The 3D community in DC, while small, is rather mighty for several reasons. First, there are a lot of sources of content. There’s the museums, monuments, and well respected institutions (like the National Institutes of Health and NASA) that have a supply of objects to be 3D scanned or modeled. They range from historical artifacts, priceless works of art, to medical scans and protein models. Second, the community here is well aware that legally and ethically the world of 3D is new territory. I can see how designers and engineers may want to shy away from these types of conversations, but being surrounded with politics, the DC crowd tends to speak more candidly about the topic. The final reason is perhaps the compilation of the first two. The DC groups have a lot of spotlight on them because of their reputation and because they will set the precedent for further work in this area. I’ve loved getting to know so many people in this community and their work in the field over the summer. They were major sources of feedback and inspiration for my own projects.
The NIH 3D Print Exchange is an open source platform for sharing medical and biological 3D models.
Something I ran into often this summer were the legal implications of my work. Though I was in the early stages of prototyping when it came to 3D scanning and altering the scans, scaling these ideas would involve many murky legal waters. For example, if I were to 3D scan a statue in DC for the purposes of a historical lesson, there would be a few issues to think about. First, technically the Park Service is in charge of the statue so what is the appropriate way to give credit to them as well as the artist? Then, if I wanted to put the 3D scan online through something like thingiverse.com – who owns this? The fine print is not always very clear. If I forgo thingiverse and post it myself on a website for the museum, then someone downloads it and puts it on thingiverse.com, then who owns it now? Updates in copyright policy will need to take into consideration these types of new technology.
My colleague Corey Kilbane and I were experimenting with photogrammetry to 3D scan some of the museum objects on display.
One of the best experiences from this summer was attending a presentation by Michael Weinberg who is an advocate in the field of emerging technology. He compared the current world of 3D technology to online music sharing. After realizing that internet sharing was inevitable, the music industry created platforms like itunes where you could pay to download legally, turning a nuisance into profit. 3D scanning and printing technology were an inherently open source movement, but it has turned into something with profit potential that will likely follow a similar path. I was particularly intrigued by his advice of assuming everything you make will be 3D scanned. As a designer, I can appreciate the implicit advice to plan ahead for this, rather than retroactively trying to figure out where the laws can give me grounds for litigation.
Michael Weinberg presenting about copyright and 3D printing.
On that note, I’d like to challenge artists and designers to use this technology in their favor. I’m imagining sculptures that could take advantage of current 3D scanning limitations. The piece could have strategically placed reflective texture (which is where 3D scans usually falter) so that when you 3D scan it with your phone you get a completely new (and designed) experience from the virtual model. Digital media friends – get to it!
My first project at the National Museum of American History was to review the ibook the Smithsonian intends to publish to introduce 3D technology to the classroom via the story of Abraham Lincoln. (Two of the first 3D scans of the collection included life masks of Lincoln.) The ipad format has opened up a lot of room to create various interactive tools (maps, timelines, 3D viewers, etc.) that create a much more dynamic experience than a printed textbook. As a life-long science and math nerd, I have to admit I find history pretty intimidating. Surprisingly, this has become a bit of an advantage these past couple of weeks. I am much less immersed in the historical content of the book so I think about the application of this tool in very different ways than the creators.
My first encounter with this was trying to distill the audience for the book (and some of other tools we are working on). There are various layers of complexity that make this a difficult task not just for the Smithsonian but for others working to incorporate 3D tools in education. 3D visualization technology (scanning, printing, etc.) has been hailed to be the ultimate resource to capture the attention and imagination of students who otherwise would turn away from STEAM fields. The technology affords a feeling of ownership of your own tangible creations. However, these tools are still relatively expensive and require a high level of competence in the field. So they typically end up in schools that already have high-end resources (technology and staff) and in the hands of students who already STEAM-inclined. As the technology becomes cheaper and more accessible, the learning tools will need to be adaptable to the changing environments in which they are presented.
Also, there are a lot of nuances of proposing “multidisciplinary” learning in traditional schools where engineering, history, and art are taught during three different time blocks, by three different teachers who are teaching to three different types of skill assessments. A choppy transition between any of the disciplines undermines the benefits of multidisciplinary learning. Part of my work here is to create a various interactive elements for the book that would mitigate some of these issues.
One of the ibook activities involves re-creating Lincoln’s life mask using the 3D scan data and paper-craft.
I will be spending my summer in Washington D.C. at the National Museum of American History and the Smithsonian X 3D initiative. By 3D scanning their collections, museums can now make historical objects available to the public for access by people who cannot visit them in person or educators wanting to delve into new resources.
I will be working with museum educators, K-12 teachers, and 3D digitization technicians to design learning modules for these growing virtual collections through technologies like 3D printing. Examples of these modules include the iBook the Smithsonian intends to publish to demystify 3D technology through a historical inquiry of Abraham Lincoln, as well as a framework for case studies that will serve as the road map for reconstructing historical inventions.
The Lincoln life-mask was one of the first objects 3D scanned and included in the Beta Smithsonian X 3D Explorer.
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