Computer Operated Photogrammetric Imaging System

The goal of this project is to design and prototype a modular, multi-view imaging system to facilitate the acquisition of complex image sets from natural history specimens and cultural heritage artifacts.


The COPIS project began as an outgrowth of a National Science Foundation Cyber-enabled Discovery and Innovation grant to explore the use of 2D imaging, 3D laser scanning and machine learning to address species identification and new species discovery within groups of fishes. Limitations discovered in laser scanning non-rigid, fluid-preserved specimens prompted us to evaluate photogrammetry as an alternative for 3D data acquisition. Results from photogrammetry were promising yet setting up a suitable environment to capture large numbers of high-resolution images from multiple viewpoints around an object still presented a significant challenge for 3D digitization at scale. This led to the development of a single-camera proof-of-concept for automated multi-view imaging and in 2015 the first multi-camera COPIS prototype was developed for imaging fishes at the Tulane University Fish Collection. More recently, a second phase of development has begun to improve modularity, incorporate structured light and move beyond fishes through a pilot project to 3D image a diverse sampling of anthropological artifacts from the Yale Peabody Museum. Upon completion of this project, open-hardware design specifications will be published through this website. If you are interested in contributing to the development or engaging as an "early adopter", feel free to contact us.

The primary function of COPIS is to produce large numbers of overlapping images from multiple viewpoints around a centrally mounted object for photogrammetric 3-D reconstruction; however, the system may also be programmed to capture imagery at varying focal depths along any direction and supports gridded imaging suitable for producing mosaics of whole specimen drawers, large documents, tapestries and paintings. COPIS comprises a custom-built, photographic light box equipped with one or more high-resolution DSLR cameras mounted on a five-axis gantry. The design was prototyped and tested to accommodate 6 DSLR cameras, but the modular nature of the system should support implementations that can scale from 1 to many cameras only constrained by available space, power and z-axis height.

Multi-Camera Five-Axis Gantry:

Robotic Gantry

Imaging Modalities:

Imaging Modalities

Lightbox with Dual Main Gantries:

Staging Chamber



Sample rendering of a 3D reconstruction Sample Renderings of miscellaneous 3D reconstruction



Nelson E. Rios

Nelson E. Rios
Project Lead
Yale University, Peabody Museum of Natural History

Julia Park

Julia Park
Software Development
Yale University, Peabody Museum of Natural History


The COPIS Project has been made possible in part by support from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the Human Endeavor (award no. HAA-266508-19 ), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (award no. MG-45-15-0003-15) and the National Science Foundation (award no. MCB 1027830). Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services or the National Science Foundation.

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