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   You are in: NSF Home > OLPA Home > Newsroom > News Tips > October 22, 2002
News Tip - October 22, 2002

For more information on these science news and feature story tips, please contact the public information officer at the end of each item at (703) 292-8070. Editor: Josh Chamot

Contents of this News Tip:

Augmented Reality Brings Dinosaurs into the 21st Century

Paleontologists and computer scientists have joined forces to paint fossils with digital flesh and create dynamic models that reveal how dinosaurs may have looked, walked and attacked prey.

Called "augmented reality" (AR), researchers have used the new techniques to fit muscles onto a predator's jawbone and to interpret a mysterious feature in dinosaur footprints.

National Science Foundation (NSF)-supported paleontologists Stephen Gatesy of Brown University and Lawrence Witmer of Ohio University collaborated with Oliver Bimber of Bauhaus University in Germany and colleagues at the Mitsubishi Electronic Research Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts and the Fraunhofer Center for Research in Computer Graphics in Providence, Rhode Island, to develop augmented reality's paleontology applications.

The researchers used augmented reality to determine where powerful jaw muscles may have attached to the skull of Deinonychus, a predatory dinosaur. The researchers hypothesized where muscle, skin, and other parts would fit, based upon observations of closely-related modern animals, and stored this information, along with a 3-D scan of the fossil, in a standard desktop computer.

The computer drives the researchers' "Virtual Showcase," a half-mirrored, conical chamber fitted with numerous projectors and lighting controls into which fossils are placed. Standing outside of the showcase and wearing special glasses, the researchers control the lighting and projected graphics, creating a 3-D illusion of flesh enveloping original bone.

Within the Virtual Showcase, "users perceive real and virtual content within the same space," said Bimber. "Virtual and real objects can be anywhere inside the Virtual Showcase, and multiple users can look at them from different perspectives, walking around them," he said.

A simplified application of the Showcase projects two-dimensional textures and information onto white casts of fossils. "Think of the unpainted cast as a kind of screen upon which the projection is displayed," said Gatesy.

Called projection-based illumination, the process is less expensive than the standard Virtual Showcase and does not require special glasses or as many graphics components. However, projection-based graphics can not augment the fossil in three dimensions.

The researchers also used another 2-D, augmented reality process called live video-mixing to study dinosaur locomotion, superimposing an animated, skeletal foot onto a footprint cast from a mudstone in Greenland. The researchers then visualized the same simulation in 3D within the Virtual Showcase.

"By interactively shading the cast inside the Virtual Showcase, the superimposed animation of the foot can appear in front of, behind, or within the footprint," said Gatesy. "Until you've seen the thing in stereo as you move around the object, it's difficult to describe how effective it is."

The AR findings help explain why some dinosaur tracks show a backwards-pointing first toe - the researchers found that a forward moving foot can actually create the backward-pointing slash as it plunges down and forward into mud.

In addition to research, the AR technology may also have applications in museum exhibits, augmenting fossils for a variety of educational purposes and enhancing details on display specimens. Just as scientists can easily change data to meet research needs, museums can change the data guiding a fossil display.

"I'm looking forward to the day when we can create, test, modify and communicate our hypotheses about soft tissues and behavior while holding specimens in our hands," said Gatesy. "Keyboards, mice, and desktop monitors still keep us one step removed from the raw data, the fossil itself." [Josh Chamot]

For a movie depicting a Deinonychus skull within the Virtual Showcase, see:

The researchers presented the AR system at the October 2002 Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting and described the new technique in the September issue of IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications - the abstract is available at:

  All images courtesy:
Oliver Bimber, Bauhaus University, Germany (formerly of Fraunhofer Center for Research in Computer Graphics in Rhode Island),
Stephen M. Gatesy, Brown University,
Lawrence M. Witmer, Ohio University,
Ramesh Raskar, Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories, Massachusetts,
L. Miguel Encarnação, Fraunhofer CRCG,

physical skull of Deinonychus scanned skull geometry registered to real counterpart augmented muscle groups integrated paranasal air sinuses and sclerotic rings superimposed skin
Visualization and presentation of the packing process with the Virtual Showcase. The physical skull of Deinonychus is placed inside the 3D display and is then augmented with the reconstructed soft-tissues:
(a) physical skull of Deinonychus,
(b) scanned skull geometry registered to real counterpart,
(c) augmented muscle groups,
(d) integrated paranasal air sinuses and sclerotic rings (bony eye rings),
(e) superimposed skin.

Larger versions of image A are here. (36 KB)
Larger versions of image B are here. (40 KB)
Larger versions of image C are here. (24 KB)
Larger versions of image D are here. (24 KB)
Larger versions of image E are here. (14 KB)

Animated theropod food skeleton; caption is below
Animated theropod food skeleton superimposed over the real track via video-mixing.

Larger versions of this image are here. (111 KB)

original theropod track manmade cast of the shallow track texture of original track and additional annotations
Projector-based illumination:
(a) original theropod track preserved in the Triassic Fleming Fjord formation of Greenland,
(b) manmade cast of the shallow track,
(c) texture of original track and additional annotations that indicate the imprints of the toes, projected directly onto the cast via video-projectors.

Larger versions of image A are here. (156 KB)
Larger versions of image B are here. (57 KB)
Larger versions of image C are here. (63 KB)

Virtual Showcase is a multi-user museum display
The Virtual Showcase is a multi-user museum display that offers an imaginative and innovative way of accessing, presenting, and interacting with scientific and cultural content.

Larger versions of this image are here. (30 KB)

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Biological Mission to an (Almost) Unknown Planet

The mission of the ALL Species Foundation is to enable the discovery of all life on Earth in 25 years. Now, the foundation is participating in a species inventory program - co-developed with support from NSF and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The Planetary Biodiversity Inventories (PBI) program, also managed by NSF, is the first of its kind to invite teams of investigators to conduct a worldwide, species-level, systematic inventory of an entire, major group of organisms.

"The Planetary Biodiversity Inventories Program is a major step forward in the exploration of life on Earth; knowledge acquired will have relevance for all disciplines of biology, for the management of the environment, and for the promotion of human welfare," said biologist E. O. Wilson of Harvard University.

PBI projects will be large-scale, multi-investigator, multi-institutional, and multi-national in scope, and they will provide the first rigorous models for answering global-scale questions. The inventories will allow researchers to track species distribution and characteristics across ecological space and through geological time. [Cheryl Dybas]

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Study of Endangered Tortoises May Reveal Impact of Diseases on Ecosystems

Building on 10 years of research into an upper respiratory tract disease that has devastated endangered gopher tortoises across the United States, scientists are trying to grasp how chronic diseases spread. The researchers are using wild animal disease as a model for understanding not just the impact of chronic disease on animals, but also on entire ecosystems.

"The tortoise is unique, as it has about the same life span as a human, and reaches reproductive age at about the same time," said Mary Brown of the University of Florida and a lead scientist for the NSF-funded study. "Lots of changes have occurred in the tortoise's habitat, many of which are human-induced."

The researchers are interested in learning how natural factors combine with human-induced ones, such as relocation and fire exclusion, and how those relationships interact with biological and microbial factors to determine the incidence of disease.

In the first year of the new project, the team plans to study more than 700 tortoises at 30 sites in Florida to determine population characteristics, habitat quality, and upper respiratory tract disease status at each location. The sites include state parks, water management areas, military reserves, and private holdings.

In subsequent years, the researchers will focus on 12 of the sites using ecological, molecular and other tools to determine the influence of human-induced factors in disease spread and virulence. The results should shed light on how disease in its various stages affects tortoise populations.

"Infectious diseases are an ever-present risk to wildlife, particularly in situations in which animals are removed from their natural habitat for captive breeding programs, or during conditions of stress, such as release into new habitats or encroachment into their habitats by human urbanization," said Brown. "This is even more important when the species concerned is a keystone species, such as the Florida gopher tortoise, that is critical to ecosystem health." As many as 360 animal species depend on the gopher tortoise for survival, including other threatened species like the indigo snake. [Cheryl Dybas]

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