According to a recent Futurism article, Scientists at UMass Amherst are using a new 3D scanner to not only build a catalog of endangered species but also educate others on how to protect these animals. Project Digital Life uses a camera called Beastcam that quickly captures 3D scans of creatures like sharks, geckos, turtles and toads. Beastcam looks like an Octopus of cameras – ten Canon G16’s in total – with each camera arm able capture high-resolution, full-color 3D models of Earth’s species.

Duncan Irschick, lead Biologists running the project, said, “Digitally preserving the heritage of life on Earth is especially important given the rapid decline of many species, and this technology can recreate organisms in a way that has never been done before.” According to WWF, “the extinction rate is between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate, or the rate at which species would disappear without human interaction.”

Able to scan small animals, like Geckos, in 30 seconds and shark-sized animals in 45 seconds, Beastcam is a portable 10 lb device that allows scientists to feed images into a 3D printer and create physical models. As with other 3D Scanners, like Artec Space Spider’s 3D scanner, the purpose is to capture images from all angles and with the assistance of imaging software, rapidly prototype objects. In this case, the objects happen to be endangered species. The next critters on Irschick’s docket: frogs and sea turtles.

With an end goal of building an open-access website, the UMass Digital Life team hopes to create an engaging, visually stimulating teaching platform. Free to non-profits, the website will be the perfect combo-plate of never seen before images and the latest and greatest on endangered species.

Armed with the latest 3D scanning technology, Irschick and his team hope to build partnerships with more zoos and organizations. Since figuring out how to scan larger animals with Beastcam, the sky is the limit on the number of endangered species 3D models.

Beastcam has been used on animals like toads, lizards, scorpions, and now sharks. With the 3D scanner and printer technology growing by leaps and bounds over the past few years, the world will be able to see our precious species in a truly fascinating way. Irschick’s Digital Life project stands to be one of the most influential multimedia platforms in the fight to preserve the biodiversity of our planet.