Guest Story Museum für Naturkunde Berlin

Guest Story: Digitizing Dinosaurs and the Path to Virtual Exhibitions

by CultArm3D

Why digitization enriches the value of a collection

When the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin (MfN) visited the Fraunhofer IGD, they brought a wide collection of objects that up to this point were difficult to capture in 3D. The advantages of digitizing the collection range from conservation to research while also having the opportunity of a digital exhibition that visitors can experience from all across the world.

The Museum für Naturkunde Berlin visited the Fraunhofer IGD in Darmstadt in March 2021

Manual measuring is a thing of the past. The CultArm3D captures volume and dimensions effortlessly.

Challenges of capturing the uniqueness of natural objects

The MfN has a broad collection of precious and infinitely diverse natural objects, which are challenging to 3D digitize in a reproducible manner. Their attempt to digitize some complex objects with hand-held 3D scanners lead to inconsistent results with inadequate quality. The challenges lie in the unique material properties and complex geometry of the artifacts.

Dinosaur-Skulls were eroded by time and discolored black, which is difficult to capture. Reflective surfaces and translucence are to this day challenging to digitize. Some species have complex, detailed geometry with lots of occlusions. This is typically impossible to capture with manual scanning approaches.

Taking into account all the challenges, IGD offered a workshop to experience the advantages of the latest 3D scanning technologies.

The process of digitizing a collection

The key elements of the most advanced scanning systems are highest image quality, reproducibility of results and maximum safety. To make digitization as simple as possible, the CultArm3D system breaks down a digitization to three basic steps for a scan:

  • Automatic self-calibration of the system
  • Placement of the artifact by curator or operator
  • Selection of desired quality and pressing “Start”
The autonomous scanning takes 10-90 minutes. This depends on the required quality, object size and its complexity. The scan-data is automatically processed by the system to achieve the highest resolution and color-faithfulness. Hardware and software measures ensure maximum safety on multiple levels.

The autonomously capturing CultArm3D maintains safety at all times while creating the highest quality in a repeatable manner.

The camera setup, custom ring light and robot move safely, according to finely tuned algorythms. 

How to meet challenges in digitizing natural materials

During the workshop with the MfN we showcased how our system meets these widely unresolved challenges.

A custom build ring light with polarization and dedicated LEDs with CRI>98 allows precise capturing of reflective surfaces. Unique algorithms developed by Fraunhofer IGD orchestrate the robotic arm and the calibrated capture configuration (camera back, lens, and ring light) in order to effectively digitize the complete surface of the object. The fine details are scanned down to 15μm with an intelligent next-best-view planning algorithm.

There are many details that conventional systems struggle with that could have a big impact on the desired result. The details above give a short outline of some of the processes that the CultArm3D orchestrates. The goal not only was to capture complex materials, but also to ensure that the process is simple. Only that way digitization becomes accessible for institutions.

Results of the Project

Digital 3D technologies can provide important opportunities for cultural and natural heritage institutions in the context of research, conservation, and exhibition. The aim of this workshop was to explore capabilities of the turnkey solution CultArm3D and to find out how 3D technologies can provide new ways of accessing and understanding species from various MfN collections.

Together with Bernhard Schurian, Photographer and Digitizer at MfN, we scanned nine unique, challenging species to see if the 3D results meet high requirements of researchers and conservators at MfN.

The Cultarm3D generated the following outputs:

  • 3D model down to 15 µm in any standard 3D format
  • Optimized 3D models: web-ready models, AR models
  • Video rendering of the 3D models
  • Metadata compatible with Europeana Data Model
Below you find our favorite scan results from the cooperation.

Video Render | Allosaurus (4M)

Video Render | Legs (4M)

Video Render | Turtle (8M)

Video Render | Haliaeetusalbicillaalbicilla (6M)

"We challenged the CultArm3D System with all difficulties our objects exhibit: reflective or almost black surfaces, complex structured surfaces, complex structured surfaces, cabities. I was surprised: No problem for CultArm3D. I haven't seen such an autonomous system before."
Bernhard Schurian
Team Digitization/Technology Development

Reach out

For more information how the CultArm3D can bring your digitization project to the next level.

Fraunhofer IGD

Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research IGD

Fraunhoferstrasse 5
64283 Darmstadt

Phone: +49 6151 155475
Fax: +49 6151 155 139


Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research


“Digitization made easy “