In today’s news of, “where in the hell are we going with this,” the Smithsonian Institute has revealed the Smithsonian X 3D project. This involves a complex 3D scanner, the 137 million objects in the Smithsonian collection, and the eventual Matrix-ization of our entire world. As the project moves forward, a team at the institute scans the collections, digitizes them, and places them in an online archive. There, they can be browsed in glorious plug-in-free 3D. Objects that have been scanned already include scans of Lincoln’s face, ancient statues, and “killer whale hats.” The data for many of these objects can be downloaded, and, if you have a 3D printer, replicated.
Here’s how the museum’s director of digitization, Gunter Waibel, rationalizes this:
Curators and educators can use 3D data as the scaffolding to tell stories or send students on a quest of discovery. Conservators can benchmark today’s condition state of a collection item against a past state – a deviation analysis of 3D data will tell them exactly what changes have occurred. All of these uses cases are accessible through the Beta Smithsonian X 3D Explorer, as well as videos documenting the project. For many of the 3D models, raw data can be downloaded to support further inquiry and 3D printing.
It’s easy to be cynical about such an amazing technology—incredulity as default is the skeptic’s sharpest weapon. But truly, this is a brilliant project that broadens the educational potential of the Smithsonian to a global audience, at the click of a mouse. Seeing an object in person, for its aura, is one thing. To be able to sit at your desk, examine a 3D scan of a dolphin’s jawbone, download that data, and replicate it on your own 3D printer? That, my robot friend, is the future.
More video below and more information on the Smithsonian X 3D website.