3D Scanned Footprints Reveal Secrets of Distant and Recent Past

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Footprints aren’t as unique as fingerprints, but they still have a lot of fascinating information contained within them. Whether that information is anthropological or forensic in nature, it provides a tantalizing window into events and the possibility of reconstructing them in a unique manner. Thanks to 3D technologies, it has become easier than ever to record the information contained in a footprint and subject it to highly detailed analysis.

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The world’s second oldest human footprint. [Image: Bennett and Budka]

Where once expensive equipment and solid technological infrastructure were required to digitally capture the data in a footprint, now something as simple as a smartphone can be used to collect all the necessary information to create a 3D model. Dr. Matthew Bennett, professor of Environmental and Geographical Sciences at Bournemouth University recalled the challenges presented when trying to create a scan of an important excavation containing second oldest human footprint known to exist, explaining:

“[The scanner] had been flown at great expense first to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, and then on a small plane which landed on a dirt strip. But then, on its first day out, it was connected to a generator supposedly that had been repaired in a back street Nairobi shop – and the sparks flew. My colleagues had to infill the excavation and it was another six months before I was back out with a repaired scanner and a new generator.”

When scanning a footprint that has existed for 1.5 million years, a six-month delay is unremarkable. However, when footprint information is necessary to understand the dynamics of a crime scene, the urgency of easy information collection is more clearly visible. Unfortunately, it is an area in which 3D scanning technology has not yet been widely adopted. Instead, there is a great deal of reliance on more traditional physical molds or simply an abandonment of collection of the information contained in footprints at all.

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[Image: Bournemouth University]

Dr. Marcin Budka, Principal Academic in Data Science at Bournemouth, recognized the potential this kind of technology holds for crime scene data and worked to create a system that would allow its benefits to be fully utilized:

“Footwear impressions provide an important source of evidence from crime scenes. They can help to determine the sequence of events and – if distinctive due to the wear patterns – can link a suspect to multiple crime scenes. The value is not only as a tool in prosecution, but crucially in intelligence gathering often around petty crime…Working with a talented team of software developers, we have now translated academic know-how and software developed for research into a freeware package that puts 3D tools into the hands of everyone [into] DigTrace a bespoke software tool for footprint analysis.”

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[Image: Bennett and Budka]

The researchers published a paper early this year detailing their findings using 3D data for footprint analysis, authored as well by Dr. Sally Reynolds and Sarita A. Morse.

“As well as making new discoveries about our early ancestors, we can apply this science to help modern society combat crime. By digitising tracks at a crime scene we can preserve, share and study this evidence more easily,” said Morse.

Whether examining tracks left at a crime scene last Tuesday or those left in the Savannah over a million years ago, this type of robust data collection and ease of accessibility puts more information into the hands of those who need it, wherever they may be. Discuss in the 3D Scanned Footprints forum at 3DPB.com.

[Sources: The Conversation, Bournemouth University]

 

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