TU Delft and NFI investigate next-gen forensic photography

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Researchers from Delft University of Technology and the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) have teamed up to develop a next-generation intelligent camera for use in forensic photography. The new Freeref system can take photos at a crime scene, while simultaneously recording measurements of footprints, blood splatter and other characteristics. In addition to providing photos with a high degree of reliability, the camera also helps reduce the risk of disturbing evidence that can occur by placing rulers and other markers at the crime scene.

For its part, TU Delft was tasked with developing the technical design and software for the Freeref. To do this, they designed an attachment for the camera that shines laser beams around the evidence where a number of light spots can be seen on the photo. The Freeref’s software then automatically measures the distances and angles between these points, allowing the system to calculate the exact size of the piece of evidence, and even determine the size of a trace when it’s photographed at an angle.

Credit: TU Delft

With this project, the team of researchers was selected as winners of the Startup Challenge from Q-Lab Rotterdam, the innovation department of the Rotterdam police unit. Having been voted as the most promising concept, the police, together with the Ministry of Justice and Security, are now providing financial support and supervision to help further develop and upscale the product. Field testing of the Freeref is expected to start later this year.

“The crime scene can be very messy, small or crowded. With a ruler, you have to be very careful not to spread any DNA or damage evidence when you put it down near a new trace or another piece of evidence,” explains Arjo Loeve of TU Delft. “Blood traces on a ceiling or wall, for example, are often tricky, as are other traces that you can’t take a straight photograph of. Then a second person has to hold a ruler or apply a sticker. These are the issues we tackled with NFI.”