Laser Scanning Technology and Its Impact on Our Forensic World
To quote Bob Dylan, “the times, they are a changin’.” The explosion of laser scanning technology onto the forensic scene (no pun intended) is changing how we do our jobs. This revolutionary technology is here to stay and will continue to proliferate into more and more aspects of law enforcement as well as civilian applications.
The number of law enforcement agencies, engineering firms and accident reconstruction companies that have acquired laser scanning equipment over the last few years is growing exponentially. It is my humble opinion that laser scanning will soon become the defacto standard for crime scene and accident documentation. While “soon” may be relative in certain venues, think of it in terms of the next Windows/Mac versions of their respective operating systems: it is coming no matter what you do. You can postpone its adoption, but inevitably you will need to embrace it.
For years, laser scanning (from a forensic perspective) was reserved for the larger agencies with significant budgets and resources. We all owe these pioneers, and the companies creating the technology, a debt of gratitude for setting the stage for the current state and accessibility of Laser Scanning.
The introductory price of equipment has gotten to the point where it is affordable for smaller communities and their agencies to acquire this cutting edge technology. Some use it for documentation of evidence (DOE), while others are already using it at trial.
I had the pleasure of working with the Osceola County (Florida) Sheriff’s Office on a recent case. Their team of crime scene investigators utilize a FARO Focus 3d. CSI Techs Betsy Smith, CeCe Simpson, Heather Mentzer, Kyle Kelly, Monica Marion and Supervisor Candy Tambasco in conjunction with Lt. Kevin McGinnley are using their system to capture crime scenes in 3d. I attended presentations by Sergeant Keith Johnson and Detective Juliana Serna of the Criminalistics Unit of the Albuquerque, NM Police Department at the 2012 SPAR conference in Houston, TX. Their topics were “Active Shooter Incident at Emcore Corp.” presented by Keith Johnson and “Preparing for the Admission of Laser Scanning in Court” presented by Juliana Serna. The Albuquerque Police Department has been successfully using their Leica Scan Station 2 for over 6 years and were on the forefront of the use of laser scan data for crime scenes in the US. They are passionate about the use of the technology and are great people!
Popular versions of crime scene and accident reconstruction software are quickly embracing and integrating point clouds. While not an exclusive list by any means, here are some applications we have used with point clouds:
Edge FX Point Cloud Edition by Visual Statement: The newest version of Visual Statements Edge FX software can import and render point clouds in the viewport as well as to file.
Crime Zone/Crash Zone: Crime Zone and its sister product Crash Zone are entering into the BETA phase of a point cloud enabled version.
Google Sketchup: The ever-popular Google Sketchup (recently acquired by Trimble) can be enabled to utilize point clouds (via a plugin) exported from Pointools. Pointools enjoys a large user base and is a powerful point cloud editing software. Some laser scanning alignment/editing software can export “.pod” files (Pointools format) for use with this plugin.
Rhino: Popular with accident reconstructionists and engineering firms, Rhino also has a plugin to use point clouds from Pointools (same as above).
CloudWorx-VR: CloudWorx-VR from Leica imports point clouds to the 3ds Max environment. Based on the Alice Labs Studio Clouds plugin, CloudWorx-VR offers not only the visibility of scan data but also rendering with animation, lighting and shadows.
iViewer360: The iViewer360 iPad app, while not a true point cloud application, can accept the panoramic images captured by the onboard cameras of today’s Laser scanners, the panoramic images generated by 3rd Tech’s “SceneVision Panorama”, or any other panoramic image and make it viewable on an iPad.
There are certainly many more very good Software/Hardware Companies out there providing the ability to import and use point clouds. These are just the applications we have tested (the list seems to grow daily). The point to be made here is to embrace the technology as opposed to shying away. Contact your Software vendor and request a demo version. If you need example files, feel free to email me at ddustin@dustinproductions and I can provide samples for your testing.
David Dustin is the owner of Dustin Productions, LLC, an Atlanta-area-based forensic animation company that specializes in using FARO three-dimensional laser scanners to produce photorealistic computer models and animations of crime scenes, traffic accidents, and other accidents.