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DDI Press Release - For Immediate Release - June 2005
Direct Dimensions Helps Create the First Human Emulating Android
3D Laser Scanning Brings Philip K. Dick to Life

Gee-whiz technology reigned at this year’s recent international NextFest, Wired Magazine’s World Technology Fair in Chicago. One of the most futuristic exhibits was supported by Maryland-based Direct Dimensions. Using 3-D scanning technology, the firm brought back to life renowned science fiction author and visionary, Philip K. Dick.

Incredibly, the firm helped to create a life-like android portrait of the renowned author. This technology was sponsored by Hanson Robotics (HER), which called on Direct Dimensions to precisely capture the complex human form and create the highly accurate 3-D model. The finished portrait featured facial expressions and character as a part of the broader effort to create the most “human-like” robot. Philip Dick was a natural choice for this project: In his work, he envisioned a world where robots would emulate humans.

HER’s final design combined features captured from the sculpted human forms with precise mechanical components that were merged digitally by their design engineers. Ultimately the android parts were fabricated directly from the computer models using advanced manufacturing processes.

“Our 3D imaging technology allows us to document complex objects down to the last intricate detail,” explains Michael Raphael, president of Direct Dimensions. “In addition to saving time in the design process, we enable innovators to capture, model, and modify complex physical shapes, such as organic human forms, that would otherwise be impossible to design even with today’s advanced CAD systems.”

The Philip K. Dick android represents the first human-emulating robot complete with artificial intelligence, lifelike facial expressions, and even a human voice. The android not only possesses a human-like physiognomy, it even has the ability to recognize people.

This is not the first time though that Direct Dimensions has been called upon to break down the barriers of new challenges. Last year, the company used 3D imaging cameras and laser scanner technology to digitally capture the exact contour and shape of the Liberty Bell, including its crack. This digital copy was then used as the dimensional basis for the casting of the Normandy Liberty Bell, a “perfect” replica of the original Philadelphia Liberty Bell designed to represent the original tone and shape of when it was first cast in 1753.

Direct Dimensions measures in three-dimensional space – x, y, and z – using advanced 3D scanning systems. One process uses a mechanical “arm” guided over the object, with a laser scanner attached to the end to collect 3D data without contact. “The scanner is like the ‘barcode’ scanners we see at the grocery store,” notes Raphael. Putting data together like a virtual puzzle, engineers create an exact 3D digital model. What makes this technology so remarkable is its ability to pick up fine details, such as sculpted lines, engraved names, even barely visible marks so that the “copy” is an exact replica—something that could never be accomplished with conventional measurement methods. As data is collected, the object becomes visible on the computer screen and can be studied and manipulated in remarkable detail.

This 21st century technology is used for digital-based cosmetically accurate prosthetics and intricate surgical installation templates. Further, technology allows for creation of custom mirror image duplicates of complex human anatomy, such as ears, hands, and fingers, which are digitally designed to perfectly match the patient and then manufactured using rapid prototyping.

“Benefits go beyond the cosmetic accuracy of the prosthetics,” adds Raphael, “We can re-build very complex injuries and doctors can perform intricate surgical planning - all virtually.”

Last year, for example, Direct Dimensions scanned the conjoined heads of 1-year old twins who were undergoing separation surgery. In preparation for surgery, their skin was stretched with implanted saline-filled balloons. To ensure that the skin was sufficient to cover the twins’ wounds, the 3D laser images were used to calculate the surface area of skin. The same data was used to create physical replicas of the twins’ heads, which were coated with a silicon “skin” allowing doctors to practice the very complex surgery.

With the present capabilities of this technology and the tremendous growth of the field, advanced 3D imaging is quickly becoming the go-to technology for customized product development that will enable mass customization of consumer products such as clothing, sports equipment, and even automotive accessories. Other growing applications include sculpture fabrication, architectural design, and historic and cultural preservation.

As the technology continues to become more affordable and accessible, 3D laser imaging will transform from an industrial-based solution to one that serves consumers. For example, in the not too distant future, video games might include scanning a child’s face into a video games, allowing one to “play baseball” with athletes such as Derek Jeter or Cal Ripkin.

“The physical world we know today will become virtual, enabled by Direct Dimensions’ 3D laser imaging technology,” says Raphael.