The barrier-free crocodile – an exhibit for the senses

Nadja Heinisch und Eva Waldherr (werk5)

By Nadja Heinisch und Eva Waldherr (werk5)
28.04.2020 | 5 minutes readingtime

In a cooperation project of the Mediasphere For Nature and werk5, an original specimen of a saltwater crocodile from the collection of the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin was digitized by 3D scanning. A full-size 3D model was created that cannot only be admired visually but can also be explored through our senses of hearing and touching.

Saltwater crocodile, photo: Nadja Heinisch
Saltwater crocodile, photo: Nadja Heinisch

The estuarine crocodile (lat. Crocodylus porosus) is also known as a ‘saltie’. From all the crocodile species, the estuarine crocodile spreads the farthest into the ocean, but it can also be found in brackish water, rivers and swamps. The crocodiles, living up to 70 years, can be found from East India to Southeast Asia and northern Australia and belong to the only crocodile species that lives in both salt and fresh water. They can reach a length of up to 4 metres and weigh up to 300 kilogrammes. The crocodile from the museum collection has a length of 1.30 metres and is therefore a not yet fully-grown adolescent. As it has been part of the collection since the last century, it dates from a time when specimens were usually treated with arsenic or similar toxic substances, for example to prevent pest infestation. This, in addition to the still dangerously sharp fangs, makes a haptic experience of this estuarine crocodile impossible, which also had to be considered when handling it during the digitization process.

Digitization of the estuarine crocodile of the collection of the Museum für Naturkunde through structured-light 3D scan. Photo: Nadja Heinisch, MfN
Digitization of the estuarine crocodile of the collection of the Museum für Naturkunde through structured-light 3D scan. Photo: Nadja Heinisch, MfN

The 3D model is therefore primarily designed for the haptic perception. By touching one of the four sensory points on the crocodile, you hear exciting facts about the estuarine crocodile, for example about its teeth, each of which is changed up to 50 times in the crocodile’s life. This makes the crocodile replica particularly suitable for visually impaired people and invites them to explore the animal by touching and hearing.

3D model of the estuarine crocodile with sensory points for an acoustic object description. Crocodile replica in original and palm size at the Exponatec 2019 in Cologne. Photo: werk5
3D model of the estuarine crocodile with sensory points for an acoustic object description. Crocodile replica in original and palm size at the Exponatec 2019 in Cologne. Photo: werk5

So far, the 3D model has been presented at several events and exhibitions. For example at the Museum für Naturkunde at select events of the Mediasphere For Nature in order to illustrate the possible use of digitized objects from the museum’s collection. At the Exponatec 2019 in Cologne, the multi-sense exhibit was presented both as a ‘best practice’ example at the werk5 booth and in a lecture. Thanks to the digital construction data enabling an easy scaling of the model, palm-sized crocodiles could be produced through 3D-printing, which was well received by the visitors.

On such occasions, impressions are always collected and feedback is gathered on the use of the 3D model, so that the model can be continuously developed. Even though the target group is primarily visually impaired and blind people, all visitors are enthusiastic when they are not only allowed to look at exhibits but also experience them in a tactile way. The transformation of digitized objects into reality can be enriched for sighted people with an AR application. The realistic photo texture is simply mapped onto the 3D model surface, it can also be animated and play further information. At the Exponatec, werk5 used the expertise of its sister company Interactive Scape to illustrate this possibility.

AR application complements the crocodile replica with a photorealistic texture at the Exponatec 2019 in Cologne. Photo: werk5 / Interactive Scape
AR application complements the crocodile replica with a photorealistic texture at the Exponatec 2019 in Cologne. Photo: werk5 / Interactive Scape

In the near future, the crocodile will also be used in the educational department of the Museum für Naturkunde, where it will be tested and tried out especially by visually impaired children. In addition, it will be presented by werk5 to interested participants as a highlight at our next Mediasphere Meetup. More information about the event will be available on our Mediasphere website and Twitter.

The experts for interactive exhibit construction of werk5 will also present the history of the cooperation and the production of the crocodile at this year’s FOCUS, which will take place in the Paulikloster in Brandenburg an der Havel from September 2nd - 4th 2020.