To kick off SPAR Europe 2011, I spent a fascinating morning as part of a tour group at the newly inaugurated CSI Lab, part of the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) on the outskirts of The Hague. The lab is a state-of-the-art forensic test and training facility developed by the NFI in collaboration with a range of knowledge institutes and high-tech companies (for a full list click here).
The aim of the game for CSI Lab is to be able to record and store a crime scene in digital form and in three dimensions so that it may be examined 'virtually'. As our host, Jurrien Bijhold from the NFI, explained, the institute was already augmenting its vast array of pathology and forensics techniques with 3D modelling and image analysis for scenario testing (e.g. how did the crime happen?), body height measurements and facial image comparison. Now, with the CSI Lab project, it is taking things one step further. A real crime scene has been recreated within the lab. This is monitored by a plethora of high-tech recording and sensing technologies, including a spectral camera for detecting traces of blood or proteins and systems for recording the heart rate and movements of forensics specialists as they carry out their tasks, providing valuable information that can be used to improve their work.
The CSI Lab takes interrogation of a crime scene to the next level.
In addition (and this is where it gets really cool), the physical recreation of the crime scene is augmented by a virtual simulation that users can interact with in 3D. Project partners e-semble and TNO (both Dutch firms) are developing a crime scene rapid 3D scenario tool (codenamed "PD3D") that will make it possible to stage forensic training and briefing scenarios virtually and without time delays using point clouds. The instructor will also be able to influence the virtual reality scenario based on the performance and actions of the person receiving the training.
E-semble project manager Steven van Campen, who gave us a live demonstration of this 'serious gaming' tool and of the progress to date on PD3D, explained that his firm is developing "3D models for operational support, witness interrogation and court scenario visualization."
TNO, in addition to its work on PD3D, has developed a "3D CSI Tool" to combine scans from different angles to create one reference frame. The tool links a Kinect to a tablet device and TNO's own software and it is designed to enable multiple forensics investigators to access the same information and even (using a type of augmented reality) annotate and add traces for colleagues to view and respond. It is hoped that the 3D CSI Tool will eventually be suitable for field work.
Also in development at the CSI Lab is a pair of 3D glasses that can be used to mark traces in the virtual crime scene. As the NFI's Andro Vos noted in a press release to announce the official opening of CSI Lab, in future the goal will be to develop new forensic innovations, combine existing innovations in a convenient and open way and validate the techniques so that they may be applied more broadly.
After the demonstrations, we heard from two of the forensics experts that, if all goes to plan, could well be using techniques developed at the CSI Lab for crime detection (or training) in the future: Paul Lucas and Alex de Bruijn from the Forensic Visualization Unit of the Dutch Police. Messrs Lucas and de Bruijn gave an insightful presentation on the history and current status of forensic visualization within the Netherlands.
The first use of 3D at a crime scene in the country was in 2003. Today, the technology is used in a wide range of settings, including potential homicide cases, major road and rail accidents, calamities (e.g. plane crashes) and police internal investigations. As Mr. Lucas explained, the visualization unit is using 3D data to generate panoramic HDR images, 3D point clouds, 3D models, 3D crime scene scenarios and high definition 3D maps. Hardware in use includes Nikon, Panoscan and Spheron cameras, stationary Leica scanners, handheld Mantis scanners and Fugro's FLI-MAP and DRIVE-MAP airborne and mobile mapping solutions. That's all backed up with a host of software, including Leica Cyclone, Alice Labs, Maya/3DSMAx, AutoCad, Cubic Convertor and Cubic Connector, Geomagic, Mantis software, Quick Time, Autodesk Stitcher and Photoshop CSS.
Mr Lucas and Mr De Bruijn showed how they have used 3D for forensic analysis in cases ranging from a murder to a death caused by a tram. The latter was particularly mystifying at first. "I am convinced we would never have had the solution of this case if we didn't do it in 3D," said Mr. Lucas. He also noted that witness statements tend to be more accurate/credible when 3D scans of crime scenes take place. However, the Forensic Visualization Unit tries to avoid using 3D animation so as not to influence witness recollection through a photorealistic representation of the crime scene. "We have only used animation twice," noted Mr. Lucas.
As yet, there are only small teams of police officers working in forensic visualization within the various regions of the Netherlands, but the demand for their expertise is increasing and new services are being developed. One such instance involved using CT scan data and 3D printing to give an accurate picture of a bullet's trajectory in a case where the bullet was lodged in a person's skull and it was too dangerous to remove it.
"A laser scanner scans without prejudice," concluded Mr. De Bruijn. "A surveyor knows what he wants to measure; in forensics, we don't know what we want to measure, therefore a laser scanner is very useful."
Below are some photos of the tour to give you a flavor of the facility: