Feb. 24, 2012 at 1:13 PM ET
If almost real is good enough, a trip to Washington D.C. to visit the world's largest museum may no longer be necessary. The Smithsonian is set to launch a program that will harness 3-D technology to make replicas of artifacts in its collection available to museums around the world, according to a report.
The initiative, which will be promoted starting next week, aims "to create a series of 3-D printed models, exhibits, and scientific replicas – as well as to generate a new digital archive of 3-D models of many of the physical objects in its collection," Daniel Terdiman reported Friday on CNET.
A call and email to the Smithsonian to confirm the report are, at this time, unanswered, but the effort has been hinted at for several years. A behind-the-scenes blog post from the museum in September 2010, for example, details a digitization fair where tools to create 3-D replicas generated a lot of buzz.
A November 2011 blog post on the Smithsonian Magazine website explains how the Office of Exhibits Central, which produces exhibits for the museum, is putting its 3-D printer to work. One upcoming project mentioned then was the creation of full-size 3-D model of a Thomas Jefferson statue.
The completed replica statue now installed at the "Slavery at Jefferson's Monticello: Paradox of Liberty" exhibit at the National Museum of African American History is what the Smithsonian plans to tout as it kicks off the effort its new initiative, according to CNET.
The initiative centers on an effort to create a digital archive of the museum's collection made with a high-end laser scanner that can capture the geometry of objects down the micron level and other tools. The data can then be fed into a 3-D printer to create life-like replicas of artifacts.
Hurdles, CNET notes, include financial and personnel resources to scale up the effort. Currently, just two digitization coordinators are behind the initiative. That's not much considering the museum has 137 million objects in its various collections, only 2 percent of which are on display at any given time.
"If we could leverage the power of 3-D to bring a portion of that collection to the world," Metallo told CNET, "that would be incredibly powerful, and definitely worth the expense."