3D scanning technology at UW is helping with crime scene investigations

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Posted Monday, July 27, 2015 --- 3:45 p.m.

Technology originally designed to study homes and heath with UW-Madison's School of Nursing is now being used at crime scenes. Researchers at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery are hoping 3D scanning will make some of the most complicated crime investigations more efficient.

Kevin Ponto is Assistant Professor of Design Studies and faculty in the Living Environments Lab at the University of Wisconsin. He explains, "When an officer tries to reconstruct a crime scene, they take it with photographs, they'll put down some kind of reference marker and it's very, very time consuming."

But 3D scanners have the potential to change that trend. However, until researchers at UW were approached by law enforcement about a year and a half ago, they never considered how useful this technology could be at crime scenes.

Ross Tredinnick, a systems programmer at the Living Environments Laboratory says, "Basically you set the scanner up on a tripod and it rotates around rapidly for anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes."

Collecting 11 to 45 million data points in that time.

Tredinnick explains, "You do that several times in a row throughout an environment and then you can later place all those individual scans together through a process called registration, which then gives you a cohesive 3D model."

The model can be projected in a room called 'The CAVE.' Its walls, floor and ceiling are made of screens. Using 3D glasses, and individual can walk through this room and get a realistic view of the scans that were taken.

Tredinnick says, "Essentially with the technology you could recreate any 3D environment that exists."

Researchers at the Living Environments Lab, which is part of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, are currently partnering with the Dane County Sheriff's Office to apply for grants. They're looking to expand this technology. They say it won't just help investigators save time, but it may help improve accuracy.

Ponto adds, "So via 3D scanning, we can actually reconstruct these crime scenes in a way that we can leave them undisturbed, we can just go in and anyone can see them and you don't have to worry about tripping over things, about messing up evidence or anything like that."

Researchers say it's not just crime scenes that can benefit from this technology. 3D scanning could also be used for insurance claims situations and even when planning for after-care following a patient's release from the hospital.