Virtual Reality Created by Robots Allows Jurors to Visit Crime Scenes Without Leaving the Courthouse

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logounidurham-newThe jury is generally a pretty hard crowd to impress, and rightly so, as years, lives, and sums hang in the balance with what can sometimes result in severe judgment and penalty. Anyone who has ever received that notice in the mail for serving on a jury probably realizes how stressful even the lesser cases can be—so imagine hearing a major murder case.

Once the jury has been chosen and the trial begins, it’s up to the attorneys to begin working their magic in the courtroom, bringing forth witnesses and discussing evidence. Intense details are presented to the jury, who may have a lot to absorb—all as their civic duty. While there are many ways to show the jury evidence, both the defense lawyer and the prosecutor often have a challenge in trying to show everything, whether by explanation, complex drawings, photographs and videos, or sometimes extensive props—and today, often some that are 3D printed to offer greater detail.

images (12)In the case of a murder that is being decided, the entire goal is to explain to the jury exactly what happened. Historically, however, this is all contained within the courtroom, and the lawyers must be in charge of painting the picture. While that might sometimes be problematic, it also offers the benefit of controlling what everyone sees and knows.

An affordable and accessible form of virtual reality has great potential for transforming the dynamic of the courtroom as we know it today, as technology allows for change we probably never considered before—but once it is in front of us—we only wonder why it took so long. Obviously, the best thing is for the jury to have complete access to all the details, and that would logically mean walking through all the steps that the detectives did, at the crime scene. While this may have been allowed for a high-profile, grisly case like that of the murder of Nicole Simpson, it is most often not feasible, and even when it has been, questions have been raised as to whether scenes had already been tampered with or left too long, reducing validity and effectiveness. There’s also the issue of how much it costs to take the jury on such a field trip, transporting everyone from the jurors to the judge.

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[Image: Durham University]

Cost has of course been a major issue with virtual reality all around. And while $600 for an Oculus Rift headset may not seem pricey if you are a dedicated gamer with some funds in the bank, it’s not realistic, or attractive as a price, for many. Convincing the court system to invest in that technology for everyone to wear in a case might be difficult. What if, however, a virtual reality tour could be set up by a robot and then allowed with something as inexpensive as Google Cardboard (as little as $15) working with a smartphone app?

Researchers at Durham University, inspired by NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover, are now creating a robot that could take video of crime scenes, allowing jury members to become completely immersed in footage that offers an accurate, panoramic view. Outlined by Mehjeb Chowdhury, a PhD researcher in forensic science and criminal investigation, their creation is called MABMAT. The robotic system takes comprehensive video, as well as photographs, which with Google Cardboard and an app are able to offer an experience that is indeed so far unprecedented. Not just for juries either, this is obviously offering a snapshot of the crime scene that investigators could use for further study as well, without having to leave the office. While persusing the scene, they can zoom in and out, as well as turning, and looking up and down.

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[Image: Durham University]

According to Chowdhury, information can be obtained in the following ways:

  • Through a path defined by the crime scene investigator
  • Via Bluetooth control or a remote smartphone app used by the CSI
  • Using motion sensors to navigate around a scene autonomously

This comprehensive system would be available for as little as £299 (or $393) currently, although the research team expects that price to be even lower with the availability of open-source kits and systems like the popular Raspberry Pi and Arduino. Chowdhury mentions the possibilities available through Google’s Tango project as well, allowing for real-time 3D rendering and tracked motion, delivering more comprehensive information and easier analysis.

If gamers and shoppers can travel from their couches to another venue for greater inspection, then why shouldn’t jurors? From recreation to retail—and now to the courtroom—it will be interesting to see what other areas technology like virtual reality infiltrates in a positive way. Discuss further in the Virtual Reality Robot for Courtroom forum over at 3DPB.com.

[Source: The Conversation]

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