Keeping Baby Tortoises Safe with 3D Printing: Update on 3D Printed ‘Techno-Tortoise’ Shells

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Tatjana Dzambazova explains that the 3D printed tortoise shell was designed with a hole to fill it with a substance that would deter ravens from attacking them.

You may remember, from last fall, seeing a 3D printable birdhouse that was resistant to predators, thanks to its durable, double-shell design and high entrance to keep chicks inside. There have been several other instances where 3D printing technology has been put to good use keeping our animal friends safe, such as creating decoys like 3D printed tortoise eggs to help stop poaching and 3D printed tortoise shells to fool hungry ravens. This last was an experiment developed by US desert biologist and co-founder of Hardshell Labs Tim Shields to protect vulnerable baby tortoises from predators in the California desert.

A baby tortoise’s shell takes a while to fully develop the necessary hardness to keep it safe, so tortoise conservationists have been experimenting with different methods to protect them, like 3D printing shells to create fake tortoises – these shells keep predators from attacking the babies, and also give researchers a chance to study the behavior of certain predators.

3D printed tortoise shells at Think2Thing [Photo: Sarah Goehrke]

Last year, Hardshell Labs, which is based out of California, contacted Autodesk and Think2Thing, a Canadian company that develops 3D designs, for help in getting the 3D printed tortoise shell project off the ground. We saw a few of the 3D printed shells at Think2Thing’s Toronto HQ earlier this year. At the recent Autodesk University South Africa 2017 conference, Autodesk architect Tatjana Dzambazova discussed the 3D printing experiment. Autodesk used photogrammetry to develop 3D shell designs, and Think2Thing then 3D printed plastic replicas of the tortoise shells. Phase one of the experiment – testing the replica to see if it could lure ravens – was deemed a success. Cameras were placed near the 3D printed shells in order to record ravens attempting to attack the decoys.

“We hope to use these lures to assess predation frequency by recording attacks (beak marks made in soft ’tissue’ of the lure), videotape and photograph raven behavior as they approach and attack the lures, experiment with robotic versions adding the element of motion to the equation, and experiment with marking, trapping, and aversively training the birds,” Shields said last year. “As we gain experience, we will probably find other combinations of predator and prey with whom this formula will work. We may ultimately be able to add an olfactory element by accurately ‘scenting’ the lures for species that identify prey both by sight and smell.”

Now it’s on to phase two: finding ways to stop the ravens from attacking the baby tortoises altogether. There are a few ways of doing this, including filling the inside of the 3D printed shells with a substance that ravens would consider unsavory, such as grapefruit juice concentrate. The shell was printed with a hole so it can be filled with the substance, and its thickness is roughly the same as a real tortoise shell, so it will break just like a real one and expose the raven to the concentrate. Another idea was to put pressure sensors on top of the 3D printed shells, which would release pepper spray if a raven attacks. Dzambazova explained that the pepper spray won’t harm the raven, just persuade it to leave the tortoise alone and fly off on its merry way.

[Image: Hardshell Labs]

“After being sprayed three times, if it really is an intelligent bird, it will ditch the tortoise,” Dzambazova explained.

[Image: Turtle Conservancy]

South Africa’s critically endangered geometric tortoise will also benefit from this innovative 3D printing experiment. Geometric tortoises are found in a very small section in the southwestern cape of South Africa, and grow to be only five to six inches, according to Turtle Conservancy. It has a domed carapace and a black radiating pattern, but has unfortunately lost over 90% of its natural habitat and is listed as one of the top 25 most endangered tortoises and turtles in the world. Professor Margaretha Hofmeyr, a South African zoologist who works in tortoise and turtle conservancy, heard about the 3D printing experiment with the California desert turtles and wanted to do something similar to help save the geometric tortoise.

Hofmeyr and Dzambazova were introduced, and after viewing pictures of the geometric tortoise together, a prototype was developed. Dzambazova revealed that the delegates at the Autodesk University conference were the very first people to see the 50 prototype shells, which had not yet been delivered to scientists. The shells were 3D printed in full color, and while Dzambazova is proud of the work that’s gone into the shells, she did note that they were the very first prototypes and would soon be developed further into more accurate shells.

L-R: 3D replica shells of the geometric tortoise and the desert tortoise. [Photo: Lameez Omarjee]

The 3D printed geometric tortoise shells, which will be tested with predators like mongoose later this month, could soon have one thing in common with the US shells – UV protection in order to avoid the color fading. According to Dzambazova, the research into the 3D printed shells and the predators that attack baby tortoises is ongoing, as the team needs to collect enough data to prove that the fake shells are indeed able to save the babies. Both projects have been made possible through the Autodesk Foundation.

Check out the first of four short Hardshell Labs episodes about its 3D printed ‘techno-tortoise’ model below:

[Source: fin24tech]

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