3D printing has ventured into surprising and arguably amusing new territory thanks to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the federal agency that collaborates with industry in the development and application of technology, measurements, and standards. Researchers at the NIST recently ordered a brand new Connex 500 3D printer from Stratasys. They are using it to 3D print anatomically accurate models of dogs’ noses. That’s right: dogs’ noses — specifically, artificial, 3D printed replicas of the nose of a female Labrador retriever.
The researchers’ and, moreover, the government’s interest in the project relates to an effort to improve technology where bomb detection is concerned. It is expensive to acquire and train bomb-sniffing dogs, so researchers were put on task to figure out how exactly the whole sensitive sniffing mechanism of the works. They speculated about the extent to which the shape of a dog’s nose impacts its ability to detect the most nuanced of smells.
Developing a comparable machine to take the place of trained explosives detection canines seems to be one of the goals of the NIST project, but researchers found that the vacuum devices that are used are not as powerful as the dogs’ noses. According to the NIST, dogs’ noses have upwards of 50 times more olfactory receptors than humans’ noses. A large portion of a dog’s brain is, in fact, dedicated to processing the information they receive via their noses.
The research team created a CAD model and then 3D printed it. They tried to simulate the sniffing progress, which involves the dog basically projecting a blast of air away from its nostrils — exhaling — and then inhaling rapidly to pull back in fresh odors. According to research team member Matthew Staymates, dogs can inhale and detect smells from remarkable distances, although some dogs are more sensitive than others. This exhale-inhale cycle happens as frequently as five times a second.
The Connex 500 3D printer — which cost the NIST a whopping $228,977 — makes selective printing possible. That is, it can print different substances into a single object, which allowed designers of the 3D dogs’ noses to distinguish between the harder and softer parts of the dog’s nose. The sophisticated new printer will, of course, be used for other projects (and this is not the primary project for which it was intended) but it will certainly meet the specific needs of this one.
You won’t be seeing one of the 3D-printed dog’s noses the next time you’re checking in at the airport, though. Currently, they are only being printed for research purposes. However, the research team plans to share its study results with industry for further private development in the interest of producing more sophisticated vapor sampling machines to take the place of the hard-working canines. Discuss this story in the 3D Printed Dog Nose forum thread on 3DPB.com.