A team of researchers at Dartmouth re-create a Utah climbing route using 3D printing, 3D models, and scanning. Researchers analyzed photos of actual climbers to successfully recreate the route (Photo from Dartmouth)


I've 3D printing a lot of parts lately, here's one I didn't think of! From creating clothes to making 3D food, researchers and creators all over are constantly looking for ways to push the boundaries of the technology. This includes a group of Dartmouth researchers who used 3D printing, modeling and scanning to recreate a full-scale replica of an outdoor climbing route. Led by assistant professor Ladislay Kayan and Emily Whiting, two decided to recreate the popular Pilgrimage route located in St. George, Utah.


The issue with a lot of 3D printing is durability. So how did the team manage to re-create this route, which has to be strong enough to support humans? First, they created a 3D model of the route using hundreds of photos taken from various angles. But attempting to create the mountain face based solely on 3D printing would be expensive and difficult. Instead, they decided to recreate the handholds and footholds climbers depend on while traversing the route. They did this by filming someone climbing the route and mapping out their skeletal structure. They then took the mapping and overlaid it onto the 3D model of the mountain. This allowed the team to correctly place footholds and handholds.


For creating the climbing aids themselves, they relied on a computer-operated router to form models of the various holds, followed by overlaying them with a silicon mold. From there, the mold is filled with a casting resin for the final process. The fabrication phase is still a work in progress. The team is still trying to find the best materials for recreating the textures of rock for a more realistic climbing experience.


While this creation process would be ideal for climbing walls in gyms, the team believes it has more potential. Recreating historical rock features and reassembling crime scenes are just some of the ideas they have for their creation process. They also think it’ll be possible to crowdsource other routes where climbers submit photos to a special database, which maps out and models routes from around the world. Kind of like having your favorite climbing trail, but in the comfort of your own home.


The project also shows conservation potential. An issue with natural climbing routes is the more they’re used, the more the surface begins to erode and wear down. Choosing to climb on a 3D printed replica could reduce the number of climbs, helping preserve the environment and keep other climbers safe.


This is all still a work in progress, so it’s not ready for the masses. So, you’ll still have to hit up your local gym if you want an “at home” climbing experience.


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