Largest Dinosaur Takes Digital Steps
October 31, 2013

World’s Largest Dinosaur Takes Its First Digital Steps

[ Watch The Video: Recreation Of Argentinosaurus Walking ]

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

British researchers have reconstructed one of the world’s largest dinosaurs, allowing the creature to take its first steps in over 94 million years. The University of Manchester team, along with scientists in Argentina, were able to laser scan a 40 meter-long skeleton of the massive Cretaceous Argentinosaurus dinosaur. They then used an advanced computer modeling technique involving the equivalent of 30,000 desktop computers to recreate its walking and running movements, and to test the dinosaur’s locomotion ability for the first time.

The study, published October 30 in the journal PLOS ONE, provides the first ever “virtual trackway” of the dinosaur, and disproves previous ideas that the animal was inflated in size and could not have walked.

"If you want to work out how dinosaurs walked, the best approach is computer simulation. This is the only way of bringing together all the different strands of information we have on this dinosaur, so we can reconstruct how it once moved,” said lead researcher Dr. Bill Sellers of the University of Manchester.

"The new study clearly demonstrates the dinosaur was more than capable of strolling across the Cretaceous planes of what is now Patagonia, South America,” said Dr. Lee Margetts, who also worked on the project.

The researchers included Dr. Rodolfo Coria from Carmen Funes Museum, Plaza Huincal, Argentina, who was behind the first physical reconstruction of Agentinosaurus, which takes its name from the country in which it was found.

"It is frustrating there was so little of the original dinosaur fossilized, making any reconstruction difficult. The digitization of such vast dinosaur skeletons using laser scanners brings Walking with Dinosaurs to life … this is science not just animation,” said the University of Manchester’s Dr. Phil Manning, a contributing author to the paper.

Sellers used his own software called Gaitsym to investigate the locomotion both living and extinct animals must overcome. "The important thing is that these animals are not like any animal alive today and so we can't just copy a modern animal," he said. "Our machine learning system works purely from the information we have on the dinosaur and predicts the best possible movement patterns."

The giant Argentinosaurus dinosaur weighed 80 tonnes, and according to the simulation would have reached speeds of just over 5 mph (2 m/s). Sellers believes the study is important to help improve our understanding of musculoskeletal systems as well as for developing robots.

"All vertebrates from humans to fish share the same basic muscles, bones and joints,” he said. “To understand how these function we can compare how they are used in different animals, and the most interesting are often those at extremes. Argentinosaurus is the biggest animal that ever walked on the surface of the earth, and understanding how it did this will tell us a lot about the maximum performance of the vertebrate musculoskeletal system. We need to know more about this to help understand how it functions in ourselves.”

"Similarly if we want to build better legged robots then we need to know more about the mechanics of legs in a whole range of animals and nothing has bigger, more powerful legs than Argentinosaurus."

The researchers now plan to use their method to recreate the steps of other dinosaurs, including Triceratops, Brachiosaurus and T. rex.