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RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - In hit TV crime drama show "C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigation," and its two spin-offs, the criminologists use the latest technology to solve grisly murders and other crimes.
Soon, real criminal investigation teams will be using videogame technology to help forensic scientists collaborate virtually to re-create what happened at the scene of the crime.
"The problem is that while there have been major advancements in the field of forensic science technology, how investigative teams come together to collaborate has not changed over the years," said Dr. Mitzi Montoya, Zelnak Professor of Marketing and Innovation Management at North Carolina State University (NC State).
NC State recently received a $1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation's Cyber-Enabled Discovery and Innovation (CDI) program to help lay a foundation that promotes greater collaboration in the field of forensic science - a platform they call IC-CRIME (interdisciplinary, cyber-enabled crime reconstruction through innovative methodology and engagement).
The IC-CRIME platform will employ the latest in 3-D laser scanning technologies and run on the Unity game engine technology, which powers over 50 commercial games like "FusionFall" and "VooDude."
The laser scanner technology, developed by Research Triangle Park company 3rdTech, will allow investigators to accurately record room and object dimensions, as well as the placement of every piece of evidence in a crime scene.
The scanners can capture millions of data points at a crime scene within a few minutes and recreate highly detailed virtual crime scenes.
"The game world will be embedded within a Web page also containing data in the form of text and 2D graphics," said Dr. Michael Young, associate professor of computer science and an expert in serious gaming at NC State.
"We'll be building an easy-to-use interface on top of the game environment that will allow CSIs and other investigators to link locations in the crime scene to external sources of data, such as hair and fiber databases, finger print images and investigator notes."
Young said the simple interface will also allow users to create scripts, or virtual scenarios, for "what if" animations.
This will allow in-game computer characters to act out different variations of the crime, allowing users to share hypotheses about the crime with other investigators and juries within the game world.
"Game technology allows us as developers to create highly interactive and adaptable virtual environments," said Young.
"The game world will support multiple concurrent users, allowing several CSIs to interact with each other while exploring the virtual crime scene."
Dr. David Hinks, professor of polymer and color chemistry at NC State, sees this new technology connecting the world of forensic science.
"We envision that experts from around the globe could be brought virtually into a scene and will be able to collaborate with diverse teams effectively," said Hinks, whose NCSU forensics department has aided North Carolina law enforcement agencies in over 50 homicides over the past four years.
"This global collaboration could occur within hours not days, weeks or months, and will reduce the need for travel," added Hinks. "Also, most crime investigations are highly time-sensitive and memories of witnesses fade rapidly with time."
IC-CRIME should be ready to enter the field within three years. But North Carolina law enforcement agencies, who will collaborate with NC State throughout this project, will have access to prototype technology in the second and third year of this development cycle to help with system assessment and validation.
"We anticipate this will be an on-going project that evolves over many years and could expand into substantial K-20 educational platforms for young scientists and engineers," said Young.
Editing by Belinda Goldsmith