No, this isn’t a post about President Obama being “absent” from some policy debate or another.  Instead, this is really about President Obama being missing.  More specifically, this is about the missing high resolution 3D scan of President Obama being missing.  The file exists – why isn’t it public?

A little over a year ago, the Smithsonian’s Laser Cowboys came to the White House to create the first 3D portrait of a sitting president.  The resulting 3D printed bust made a cameo appearance at the first White House Maker Faire and was on more general display in the Smithsonian Castle at the end of 2014.  The White House also released a great video that detailed the entire scanning process.

The bust popped up again at the National Portrait Gallery for Presidents Day 2015 and then, presumably, made its way back to storage.  Which is fine.  The nature of physical artifacts is that they can only be displayed at one place at a time and, in most cases, spend some time in storage away from the public.

Of course, this is not just a regular artifact.  It is a 3D printed bust created from a 3D scan file.  While the bust can only be one place at a time, the file could be any- and every- where at once.  So why isn’t it?

The Smithsonian’s X3D platform could easily distribute the file (they already have President Lincoln’s face – both with and without a beard).  The White House could host it on open.data.gov or open an account at any number of other places online.  Then anyone could download the file and print their own President Obama bust.  They could also remix President Obama to their heart’s content.

The strangest thing is that keeping this data under wraps isn’t even preventing 3D files of President Obama off the internet.   The team over at Sketchfab managed to extract a version of the President Obama scan from the White House video above.

What’s left to lose?  The White House flickr feed is already full of public domain (bogus usage restrictions aside) images of President Obama.  Now that a 3D file is in the wild, why not provide the public with a high quality version?

Why is President Obama missing from the world of 3D printing?

This post originally appeared on the Shapeways blog.

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