Every Object is Unique – 3D Scanning & Printing in Museums

Last week I had the pleasure of having been trained to use our new 3D scanner (woohoo!) and though I might take the time to write-up some thoughts on the whole concept and use of 3D Scanners and 3D Printing in a Museum setting. The scanner we now have and love is a HandySCAN 700 from Creaform, a really cool hand-held 3D scanner.

However, regardless of how cool the tech is I am having some difficulty getting my head around how to fit 3D Scanning and Printing into a Museum setting. I think I’m having a problem with authenticity and how by using these technologies we are “preserving” our cultural heritage. This of course leads to the question of what we are preserving and how do these technologies help or hinder.

I was particularly struck by this quote in an article about 3D Scanning and Printing the Pompeii body casts.

The problem is that they’re too fragile for traveling, which explains the need for the perfectly reproduced 3D printed copies.

This of course applies to most things in a Museum’s horde. And here is where my problem comes in. Authenticity and how we take in our objects. And I don’t think it explains anything about why we need “perfectly reproduced 3D printed copies”.

It is pretty well established that human beings have a connection to the authentic. Otherwise why have Cars Shows, Antique Markets, or Museums for that matter. If the authentic didn’t matter why do Americans by the thousands flock to see the original U.S. Constitution, when a photocopy is ostensibly the same thing – the words matter more don’t they?

We have a lot of cars at the Science and Technology Museum here in Ottawa. What if instead of putting them on display we exhibit Hot Wheels versions of them? These aren’t just your run of the mill Hot Wheels; these are the ultimate Hot Wheels – accurate right down to the salt stains on the floor mats (this is Canada after all). Would it be fair to say that because we have the Hot Wheels we are “preserving” the original. Could we also say to our visitors that we can’t show them the original (to preserve it) but look at this lovely Hot Wheels – look at the salt stains!?

Now replace Hot Wheels with “perfectly reproduced 3D printed copies”. How does this change the fact we are still not looking at the authentic original but at a copy? What’s funny is that people would come to see these Hot Wheels – because they’re really cool. I can say with certainty that they won’t confuse these tiny replicas with the real thing, and that they would balk a paying to see the originals only to see the replicas, but paying to see the replicas is something altogether different. Then again – this does nothing to explain Vegas….

I think it all comes down to how we talk about, and how we integrate these technologies into our spaces. 3D Scanning and Printing are tools and in the case of printing a manufacturing process. Injection molding, plaster casts, carving a model are much the same, but 3D printing has an aura of magic these days. I see 3D printing talked about as if we are living in Star Trek and we now have replicators (rather than Stargate replicators – we don’t want those). Would we say to our visitors “Come see our new injection molded models” and expect anything but shrugs and possibly a chortle or two?

This is a discussion that we need to have in our Cultural Institutions. We’ve been using models and dioramas for centuries to educated and entertain our visitors and this new technology gives the ability to make really accurate ones. But they are still just models, replicas, fakes. But fakes that stand on their own and are cool on their own. Once created they take on their own life, removed from the original but still attached tangentially. Who knows maybe the 3D printed version will be worth and admired more in the future than the original.

So where does this leave us in regards to this new 3D technology? Forging ahead but with caution and knowledge that this is just another tool to add to our kit. A very cool bit of kit, but one that comes with its own issues and caveats.

That said, if you will now excuse me, I have some things to scan. :-)

Raspberry Pi Digital Display

So your want a Digital Display? The Raspberry Pi is a perfect tool for this and being something relatively simple to set up. In this case we are setting up a web display system that runs from a small local web server and displays a webpage of your choosing full screen from the Pi.

First thing first you need to get a hold of one and get it up and running. At some point I will do an article on how to do that – but for now consult the all knowing oracle to find instructions on getting the SD card ready and your pi running and come on back. I’ll wait….

Done? Okay, lets start by installing the tools we need. If you don’t need PHP or MySQL don’t bother with those lines.

Install Chromium Browser, lighttpd (web server), MySQL, PHP and unclutter (which hides the mouse pointer on inactivity). If you have setup your Pi to boot to the command line, you can start by typing them in on the command line.

sudo apt-get -y install unclutter
sudo apt-get -y install chromium
sudo apt-get -y install lighttpd
sudo apt-get -y install mysql-server
sudo apt-get -y install php5-common php5-cgi php5
sudo apt-get -y install php5-mysql

Next we setup the web server, which in this case is lighttpd, a much smaller and lighter server that Apache (which also works, but it’s hefty for something small like a Pi). If you have not setup PHP above, you can skip this step.

sudo lighty-enable-mod fastcgi-php
sudo service lighttpd force-reload

Now to set permissions on the folders that will house the file for the digital display. This piece of the puzzle allows you to write files to these folders without having to type in the admin password each and every time. The $USERNAME variable should be changed to you current user, for most at this stage of things it will be “pi” (without the quote of course).

sudo chown www-data:www-data /var/www
sudo chmod 775 /var/www
sudo usermod -a -G www-data $USERNAME

At this stage we should have a fully working web server up and running so we can more on to the “display” part of the project.

First we need to get things running whenever the Pi boots. Begin by editing the autostart file for LXDE (which is the name of the default desktop for the Pi)

sudo nano /etc/xdg/lxsession/LXDE-pi/autostart

This is what the file looks like before you edit it. Note: yours might look different, it’s okay. Just add the lines below and everything should be fine

@lxpanel --profile LXDE-pi
@pcmanfm --desktop --profile LXDE-pi
@xscreensaver -no-splash

Comment out the screen saver line by putting a ‘#’ at the beginning of the line. This stops the screensaver from, you know, running. Next add all lines below to the end of the autostart file.

@xset s off
@xset -dpms
@xset s noblank
@unclutter -idle 0
@/usr/bin/chromium --disable-translate --disable-sync --disable-speech-api --disable-smart-virtual-keyboard --disable-site-engagement-service --incognito --kiosk --ignore-certificate-errors --disable-restore-session-state "http://localhost"

If you have not set the Pi to run the desktop at start up run raspi-config change the settings and reboot. If you are booting into the desktop, reboot.

sudo raspi-config

If it all goes well, you should now have a brand new shiny Digital Display. If not – your long day debugging has just started.

Running a site on a USB Stick

Now that you have a basic Digital Display running wouldn’t it be nice to put all your files on a USB stick and run the display from that? Yes it would.

This is the simplest, and in my humble opinion the best method for mounting a USB stick (or drive) on the Raspberry Pi.

Run the following command and reboot – your USB Sticks will show up under the folder /media/ and the folder will be called USB – or USB2, or USB3, or USB4 depending on the order they were attached.

sudo apt-get install usbmount

Once you have rebooted you will need to edit some configuration files to make sure that you have the rights to read and write files on the USB stick. For this you will need to edit usbmount’s configuration file usbmount.conf

sudo nano /etc/usbmount/usbmount.conf

Near the end of this file there is a line in the file that looks like this:


Change to the following. This should allow anyone to read or write the files. This does not work for Mac formatted disks.

FS_MOUNTOPTIONS="-fstype=vfat,gid=users,uid=nobody,umask=000,sync -fstype=ntfs,gid=users,uid=nobody,umask=000,sync"

The last step is to make sure that the webserver (lighttpd in this case) can find the files. This can be done with a very simple edit of lighttpd configuration file, lighttpd.conf

sudo nano /etc/lighttpd/lighttpd.conf

This is what the file looks like before you fool with it.

server.modules = (
#   "mod_rewrite",

server.document-root        = "/var/www"
server.upload-dirs          = ( "/var/cache/lighttpd/uploads" )
server.errorlog             = "/var/log/lighttpd/error.log"
server.pid-file             = "/var/run/lighttpd.pid"
server.username             = "www-data"
server.groupname            = "www-data"
server.port                 = 80

index-file.names            = ( "index.php", "index.html", "index.lighttpd.html" )
url.access-deny             = ( "~", ".inc" )
static-file.exclude-extensions = ( ".php", ".pl", ".fcgi" )

compress.cache-dir          = "/var/cache/lighttpd/compress/"
compress.filetype           = ( "application/javascript", "text/css", "text/html", "text/plain" )

# default listening port for IPv6 falls back to the IPv4 port
include_shell "/usr/share/lighttpd/use-ipv6.pl " + server.port
include_shell "/usr/share/lighttpd/create-mime.assign.pl"
include_shell "/usr/share/lighttpd/include-conf-enabled.pl"

Change the line…

server.document-root = "/var/www"


server.document-root = "/media/usb"

And you’re done. Make sure that the folder above is correct, if you only insert one USB Stick it should be fine.

Now reboot with a webpage stored on the USB stick and if all went well you should have a fully running Digital Display running from USB.

Museums and Technology

Hello. If you’re reading this you are starting from the beginning. Funny enough it’s where I’m starting as well. So what’s this space? A place where I can discuss how we use tehcnology in a Museum setting. Mostly this is going to be hard core geek stuff – you know with codes and stuff. You’ll see some theory or grand ideas here, because I can stop myself, but mostly I am more interested in what we can actually do on the ground so to speak. While I won’t be giving out any Golden Marshalltown’s, I think a more practical approach is required.

You will see a lot of hopefully, cool things here dealing with Raspberry Pi’s, Arduino, XBee, and many things from Adafruit and Sprakfun to bring everything together. So get your fingers warmed up and your Model M out of mothballs and let’s see what happens eh?