Crime Scene Investigation in the Virtual World

virtual reality

With the upcoming release of the Oculus Rift and Microsoft Hololens, virtual reality is set to explode into the mainstream market. Using a headset with special stereoscopic displays, the wearer is immersed into an interactive computer-generated 3D environment, in which his/her movements are tracked and displayed back to the user – creating the illusion that they are inside a virtual world.

However, virtual reality is not just for gaming, as researchers in Switzerland have demonstrated by designing virtual worlds in which crime scene investigators can examine and interact with crime scenes.

The system is designed to build up an accurate reconstruction of the scene using data from photos, 3D room scans, CCTV footage and autopsies. The investigators are then able to explore the environment in 3D by wearing virtual reality headsets, which display an image that changes in relation to the viewers’ position in the virtual room. The video below displays the technique in action.

As well as being a fantastic investigational tool, the future intention is for this type of technology to be used in court to help present complex scenarios to judges and juries, and allow them to “visit the crime scene”. This would allow juries to experience another person’s line of sight, which could be essential in assessing witness testimony. Furthermore, the digital representation of a scene allows for the removal of potentially traumatic, distracting or irrelevant details. For example, the people involved are replaced with video game characters who retain the body proportions (height, build and posture) of those involved, but are otherwise unidentifiable

In their recent paper ‘Using virtual reality in criminological research’, van Gelder et al (2014) note that virtual reality is well on its way to becoming an established research tool in the social sciences, although criminologists have been generally slow to engage. They highlight several key areas in which criminology could benefit from the application of this new technology; including allowing researchers to be “virtually present” at crime events as they unfold, to analyse victim behaviour within a virtual environment in order to inform prevention strategies, and to examine the influence of environmental factors on the fear of crime. Although this technology is still developing, it is clear that the opportunities for its application are already vast. The article above is a fantastic source to learn more about its potential for crime research.

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