3D Printing Lucy: your 3.2 Million Year Old Relative

and the attitude that got us here

It began with this article on Nature:

and I was blown away…

Really, THIS is what is amazing about emerging technologies. Yes you can do things faster and easier than ever before, but also you can do things you thought was downright impossible!

I mean, we all can 3D print trivial objects and memorabilia, and we can build prototypes and functional objects MUCH quicker. But I could never even dream of putting my hands on a fresh replica of an ancient artifact, look at it, play around with it, and study it (to a level, of course!).
And aaaalll the way on the other side of the Earth, an actual researcher in Texas is sitting down and doing almost the same! (at a whole another level, of course!)

Lucy’s Humerus bone in Meshmixer. a free program for modifying 3D models.

This is why i think 3D Printing is here to stay. You might think “Well, Obviously”; but remember we live in the age of startups and new gadgets and services rise and fall every day. The most unlikely things turn into trends and some basic services become obsolete — for example hardly anyone goes on facebook in Iran anymore; although for other unique reasons.

So I quickly went to eLucy.org and got a copy of Lucy’s 3D Scans (not all the parts are shared) and chose my first print: the lower half of Lucy’s broken Humerus bone.
It wasn’t a particularly difficult print. It wasn’t even a big print. A good resolution 0.1mm print would only take around 2.5 hours. just a few support material added and I was ready to go. Here you can see a video of the process:

Video of 3D Printing Lucy on YouTube

As I'm holding Lucy’s broken arm in my hand, I keep thinking about how we got to this point and what took us so long. You might be surprised that it has little to do with technology! Here’s what got us here: Attitude.
Lucy was always there since the 70’s. there were cast models and posters of here since the discovery. And I'm sure they 3D Scanned her as soon as the technology was there. and of course there are projects that aim at scanning as many artifacts as possible. (check out africanfossils.org)

And 3D Printer? Oh it’s one of the most basic devices you can imagine! the common desktop FDM 3D printer is such a simple device that it should’ve been here even before the desktop 2D Printer! You can practically salvage some old CD or Floppy Drive and build yourself a 3D Printer! Can you build a Xerox like that? No!

We’re here because of the Open Source community. The universal sharing attitude is adopted more and more every day and marvelous things emerge from it. I have a 3D printer now, mainly because I was allowed to use plans and parts that other people shared with me and the world. At the heart of my printer is a controller board called the Arduino, which has no special or groundbreaking parts inside, but is an open source board, with thousands of contributors.

So in effect, I printed an open design (eLucy) on an open source device (RepRap) run by an open source brain (Arduino) with an open source firmware (Marlin) and an open source software (Cura).
All because of a modern attitude towards creation and intellectual property. The simple realization that the process of creating almost anything nowadays requires a team of multi talented individuals, and the idea of a singular entity owning all the effort is just absurd.

Lucy’s Humerus Bone. Printed in ABS.

And that is how we got here.
I'm not sure who on the research team decided to share the (limited) bones of an artifact that belongs to humanity, but it’s a start. and a shaky one to be honest, as research team leader John Kappelman points out in the article:

Kappelman would like to see such revenue streams maintained, for instance by making lower-quality models free while charging researchers for good digital reproductions. “What has to be done is to put together a good business model that allows these museums to be able to have some sort of revenue stream off of these data,” he says.

I'm not sure if the Freemium business model is appropriate for research.
okay I am certain that it’s not a good approach at ALL! The science we create these days is still locked up behind paywalls that cripples independent research, and even many established institutions stopped paying for their ridiculous subscription fees. Just imagine if Tim Berners-Lee locked up the Internet behind a patent wall, or if Sir Isaac Newton said: If I have seen further, it is by stepping over a giant brick paywall.

New Mediums are emerging every day. New ways to communicate and share ideas and stories. But they’re only as good as the people who put them to good use. And unless we put aside the meaningless greed towards what essentially belongs to humanity, even the most astonishing means of storytelling wont be of any use.

New media technologies researcher and designer, techgnostic exploration enthusiast.

New media technologies researcher and designer, techgnostic exploration enthusiast.