Journal Article
. 2014 Apr; 9(4):e94346.
doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0094346.

Capturing natural-colour 3D models of insects for species discovery and diagnostics

Chuong V Nguyen 1 David R Lovell 1 Matt Adcock 1 John La Salle 2 
  • PMID: 24759838
  •     14 References
  •     16 citations


Collections of biological specimens are fundamental to scientific understanding and characterization of natural diversity-past, present and future. This paper presents a system for liberating useful information from physical collections by bringing specimens into the digital domain so they can be more readily shared, analyzed, annotated and compared. It focuses on insects and is strongly motivated by the desire to accelerate and augment current practices in insect taxonomy which predominantly use text, 2D diagrams and images to describe and characterize species. While these traditional kinds of descriptions are informative and useful, they cannot cover insect specimens "from all angles" and precious specimens are still exchanged between researchers and collections for this reason. Furthermore, insects can be complex in structure and pose many challenges to computer vision systems. We present a new prototype for a practical, cost-effective system of off-the-shelf components to acquire natural-colour 3D models of insects from around 3 mm to 30 mm in length. ("Natural-colour" is used to contrast with "false-colour", i.e., colour generated from, or applied to, gray-scale data post-acquisition.) Colour images are captured from different angles and focal depths using a digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera rig and two-axis turntable. These 2D images are processed into 3D reconstructions using software based on a visual hull algorithm. The resulting models are compact (around 10 megabytes), afford excellent optical resolution, and can be readily embedded into documents and web pages, as well as viewed on mobile devices. The system is portable, safe, relatively affordable, and complements the sort of volumetric data that can be acquired by computed tomography. This system provides a new way to augment the description and documentation of insect species holotypes, reducing the need to handle or ship specimens. It opens up new opportunities to collect data for research, education, art, entertainment, biodiversity assessment and biosecurity control.

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