3 Real-Life Forensic Tools Straight Out Of Science Fiction

Only ten years or so ago, science fiction movies like Minority Report, Star Trek, eXistenZ,  and others showcased eye-popping technology that took the characters into virtual realms, helped with surgeries using lasers and imaging devices, recognised criminals on the street instantly in crowded places and showed us many more futuristic wonders.

These ideas have materialised based on a perfect storm of advancements; incredible increases in computing speed and memory capability of computers; networking on broadband connections with faster upload and download speeds; better and more practical user interfaces; smart mobile devices; and programs that unite different databases.

Add video cameras multiplying in public places, and innovative programs that can do more advanced work, and you have intelligent systems that have never been present before.  Some of these technologies have become mainstream because they have found everyday functions where they can save time, increase accuracy and provide more detailed information. And some are tuned to spy on us, some to look inside cadavers, and some to make virtual worlds very real.


Scene replications: from scratches on a paper to a virtual walkthrough.

Think about the scene diagram, which is necessary for documenting a crime scene and for later study about how an accident happened or a crime was committed. In the past, a CSI or a forensic expert would process the scene by identifying items of interest, taking photographs, making measurements, and sketching a map of the room.

Then, he or she would return to the lab and laboriously draw up the scene, linking photographs to specific clues, such as blood spatter and bullet holes. The resulting suite of exhibits would become trial exhibits.

If the experts were measuring a traffic accident, the road would be blocked off for hours while the photos, measurements and evidence were collected.

Now, using a 3D laser scanner built specifically for capturing and producing a 3 dimensional model of the site, the time to completely gather information about a scene has been reduced to minutes. Laser scopes such as the ARAS 360, the Leica Geosystems or the Reigel RiSolve are encased in a housing which sets up on a tripod, orients itself to GPS data, and then rotates a full 360 degrees while the laser rapidly scans up and down through mirrors to capture millions of related points. A built-in camera also collects photographs of the objects and background, which are incorporated onto the data set so that when the points are rendered and the photographs are pasted in place, an exact replica of the computer generated scene results. This is accurate to 1cm. It is so accurate that measurements can be taken from the computer model.

Generally, scans will be taken from several vantage points so that detail can be filled in that would be hidden from only one view. For example, a scan would need to be made from each side of a vehicle, a piece of standing furniture or other object so that it will appear complete later, when examining the computer model  from all angles.

These computer models can then be used to stage a recreation of the events leading up to the incident, for measuring relationships not made at the site and tracking very specific evidence such as blood spatter or bullet trajectories. And, like Moore’s law has always prophesied, capability is constantly increasing and the cost is getting more affordable while features are being refined dramatically. The Clauss Rodeon is a brand new model that is 60% less expensive and has 10 times the resolution and almost double the range of the other leading brands.


Autopsies without scalpels

In a conventional autopsy, once the medical examiner cuts into a body, much of the evidence is destroyed.  There can only be one pristine examination, and once the cadaver is cremated, the report and photographs of the single examination are the only products of the process.

Today, a medical examiner might make a preliminary investigation at the scene, then put the body in a body bag and accompany it to the morgue.  It can stay in the body bag in cold storage until ready to be placed in a CT scanner (while still encompassed in the body bag to preserve physical evidence such as fluids, hair, wounds and to prevent contamination) and a full body dual source CT scan is made. Sometimes an MRI brain scan or even a full body MRI will be taken as well.

Once these scans are rendered and processed, a 3-dimensional look at the surface and internal organs can be examined in minute detail. Wounds can be clearly examined while keeping the covering tissues intact.  Bullet fragments, hematomas, and other symptomatic abnormalities can be discovered, revealed and printed into exhibits. Best of all, this information can be reviewed later when new theories are proposed, and the virtual body remains intact long after the natural body has been released.


Finding a face in the crowd

Gone are the days of faxing copies of a mug shot to police stations, then sending out patrol men to the airports and bus stations with a smudged picture in hand to try to match it to a real suspect — face hidden, walking in a crowd. Facial recognition by computer came of age once a network of cameras had been installed throughout public places, linked to databases of people photographs from various sources, and fed into super computers which can capture faces in 3D from video. Then, using an algorithm that examines the ratios and proportions of measured features and personalised idiosyncrasies, match them and reveal an identity.

There are three different ways matches can be made: 1) geometric, which analyses the distances, sizes and proportions of distinguishing features; 2) photometric, which distills an image into values and then compares that value map with templates; and 3) 3D facial recognition, which uses 3D sensors to define distinctive facial features such as noses and eye sockets for improved accuracy.

The advantage to 3D imaging is that it is independent of light and shadow, positioning of a face, and expressions. And the advantage to law enforcement is that hundreds of people can be scanned simultaneously, even while in motion and the suspect can be quickly identified and tracked. By connecting networks and databases, eventually, all places and all people will be digitised for uses in ways we never thought possible. No more places to hide.


Your Turn: have you been scanned in a public place? Would you like to have a virtual model of an exotic vacation spot kept for you to revisit from time to time? What is your fantastic invention that you foresee becoming mainstream in the future?



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