Faculty scientists have helped digitally reconstruct one of the world’s largest dinosaurs, allowing it to take its first steps in over 94 million years. The team, working alongside scientists in Argentina, began by scanning a 40-metre skeleton of the Cretaceous Argentinosaurus dinosaur. They then used advanced computer modelling techniques to recreate its walking and running movements and test its locomotion ability for the very first time.
The study provides the first ever ‘virtual’ trackway of the dinosaur. Dr Bill Sellers, lead researcher on the project, said:
“If you want to work out how dinosaurs walked, the best approach is computer simulation. This is the only way of bringing together every strand of information we have on this dinosaur, so we can reconstruct how it once moved. These animals are not like anything alive today, so we can’t just copy a modern animal. Our machine learning system works purely from the information we have on the dinosaur and predicts the best possible movement patterns.”
Argentinosaurus weighed 80 tonnes and the simulation shows that it would have moved at around 5 mph – barely above a human’s walking speed. The research does more than simply tell us about the movement of this particular dinosaur, though. It also increases understanding of musculoskeletal systems and will help the development of robots. Dr Sellers added:
“All vertebrates share the same basic muscles, bones and joints. To understand how these function we can compare how they’re used in different animals. 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 humans. 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. Nothing has bigger, more powerful legs than Argentinosaurus.”