Best Use of a 3D Printer: Smithsonian Collection 3D Digitization

I've read of many possible uses for 3D printers, from custom Lego pieces to food to skin (for burn victims). But this is definitely one of my favourites.

The Smithsonian is currently in the process of digitizing and 3D printing some items from their collection. Now, you probably know that museums have ever-changing displays because their collections are usually much larger than the physical space they have to display their exhibits. That's why they sometimes loan out items, put them on tour, or — more commonly — hide them in climate-controlled storage away from potentially damaging conditions like daylight. Or people.

Credit C. Thome
The Smithsonian is using a combination of photos and scans to reproduce some of the items in their collection for display to the masses. And what's even more kewl is that they will eventually be online via a 3D web viewer. So you don't need to head all the way to the Smithsonian to view the fake artifact, now you can be amazed by the detail and quality of the replica in the comfort of your own home.

Seriously, though, this is probably one of the most logical and effective uses of 3D printing tech. Of course, it's just a matter of time before someone hacks into the Smithsonian computers, steals images and prints out their own replicas to sell on the black market. So let's just hope their security is top notch. [Don't roll your eyes at me! Hacking is just a fact of life now. Ok, ok. You go on pretending that people are generally good and there are no criminals on the Internet.]

Ahem. If you're interested in finding out more about the project, you can check out their progress on Facebook or Twitter. (PSA: Apparently some of the articles online are poorly written. Their Facebook wall clearly tells you which ones to trust and which to avoid trusting outright. Love that.)
Credit: Smithsonian 3D Digitization Facebook page
(Source: CNET — One of the trusty articles. I checked.)