The researchers at the University of Dundee’s Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science (LRCFS) and Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design (DJCAD) have collaborated with Danish Police fire investigators to create a virtual fire scene environment using digital images taken in the aftermath of real fires using VR tools.
The specialists have developed a new virtual reality (VR) training tool to give fire investigators a way to practice in a simulated environment.
Current training for police and fire service investigators often requires controlled burning of simulated fire scenes set up in shipping containers or in abandoned properties.
Investigators then attend the site and determine where the fire started and what caused it. While efficient, these test fires are costly, unsustainable and environmentally unfriendly.
Capturing the aftermath of a controlled burn using digital imaging and VR tools technology allows one site to be used in multiple training sessions while providing a realistic setting for investigators to explore and examine the scene in a safe environment.
The Leverhulme teams are collaborating with fire investigators from Scottish Police Authority (SPA) Forensic Services and Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) fire investigators to explore operational opportunities using VR in fire investigation within Scotland. Investigators from both sides visited the University this week to try it out for the first time.
Karen Robertson of Scottish Police Authority forensic services said: “It’s very difficult to orientate yourself in a scene with photographs. It’s very difficult for clarity about where an object is or where an item is.”
She added: “It will help the court to understand the layout of a room, why a scientist has targeted a certain area to take a sample and how they’ve interpreted all the burnt patterns.”
Eva Ljungkvist, from the Danish Police Special Crime Unit said: “We are doing generation two. We are talking about special lights, UV lights that fluoresce liquids like petrol and diesel so we can have the scene before and after the fire. We can have special lights that light up sperm and blood and ignitable liquids and we can all train that virtually.”
Professor Niamh Nic Daeid, Director of the Leverhulme Centre said, “We think that it can be used for real life crime scene investigations, but it’s a process of evolution.”
He added, “We also want to be absolutely certain that when we introduce these kinds of techniques into criminal investigations that there’s a robustness, a solidness behind the way in which we are using them, so that our courts etcetera have confidence that the decisions being made using these tools are ones that are robustly made.”