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Augmented reality tech shows children how crime scene investigation works

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Imagine being able to visit and explore a crime scene simply by holding up your mobile phone.

It may sound like science fiction, but researchers at the University of Malta are working to allow forensic criminal investigators to do just that.

The technology is now on display for children to try out for themselves, as part of a Halloween event being organized at the Esplora Science Museum in Kalkara.

Using Ipad Tablets as their virtual eyes, children can explore a mockup crime scene by walking around a designated area within the science museum at a booth set up by the Malta Police Force’s forensics department.

The Ipads uses Augmented Reality technology to display the mock crime scene, essentially overlaying information over the real-world environment the tablets see through their camera.

The mock crime scene, which features a setup designed by Zak Grech, was modeled in 3D from a conceptual scene.

An aerial view of a scan of Għar Lapsi, done using photogrammetry, used to depict the impact of potential sea level rises.An aerial view of a scan of Għar Lapsi, done using photogrammetry, used to depict the impact of potential sea level rises.

Child detectives at the Esplora stand can then go on to learn about fingerprinting, toxicology, fabric analysis and DNA extraction with the help of police forensics experts.

The virtual crime scene application is one of several initiatives that researchers Tram TN Nguyen and Fabrizio Cali, who are led by professor Savior Formosa, are working on.

Working out of the EU-funded SIntegraM Immersion Labs within the University’s Faculty of Media and Knowledge Sciences, the research team has scanned holy persons, underground structures, burnt buildings, restored buildings, cliff faces battling erosion, a nymph’s cave and an iconic palace, among others.

They have even scanned the body of marathon swimmer and anti-pollution activist Neil Agius, with that scan then being used as a mold for a massive 2.6m statue of Agius by artist Austin Camilleri.

Scanning is done through a combination of photogrammetry – taking multiple photos and then stitching them together – and LIDAR, which uses lasers to plot thousands of points which are then used to capture a scene in 3D. That data is then processed on high-end computers and converted into 3D scenes before it is published to AR technologies such as Magic Leap or Virtual Reality headsets such as the Oculus Leap.

A 3D walkthrough of the mock crime scene on display at Esplora.

Formosa believes the technology has great potential to be applied within criminal investigations and the courts by creating virtual copies of crime scenes that can be visited at any point after the event.

Rather than relying on photographs or their memories, investigators, magistrates and even jurors can see crime scenes for themselves and explore them in 3D. Work has already begun to scan and record some such crime scenes.

A LIDAR-equipped drone used for scanning.

Led by inspector Charlo Casha, the Malta police forensics lab has worked with Formosa’s team to document car bombs, homicides, structural explosions, fires and other difficult crime scenes.

Meanwhile, members of the forensics lab and Formosa’s team are spreading the word about their work through outreach initiatives such as that at Esplora.

The CSI at Esplora event runs until Wednesday, November 2, between 10am and 5pm.

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