Crime and punishment

Tracking criminals may no longer be difficult

Published: Wednesday 30 June 1999

watch out, felons. A promising, new technology developed by National Aeronautics and Space Administration ( nasa ) could go a long way in helping law enforcement agencies analyse crime-scene evidence to catch you.

nasa 's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Atlanta, has demonstrated software that enhances and improves dark, blurry videotape. And nasa 's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, usa , is working with the National Institute of Justice ( nij ) to develop remote crime-scene analysis.

Goddard and the nij will study how remote-sensing technology could be used to study a distant crime scene. From fingerprints to gunpowder residue, everything could be identified without disturbing a crime scene.

In the Goddard study, a group of forensic scientists and law-enforcement specialists will use instruments from nasa 's Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous spacecraft to scan a crime scene. The data can then be transferred to any location, allowing crime experts to study a scene from anywhere in the world.

Says Jacob Trombka, a scientist in Goddard's laboratory for extraterrestrial physics, "This can have a major impact on the criminal justice system."

Meanwhile, experts at the Marshall Space Flight Center have taken software used by nasa to improve video for shuttle launches and weather images and applied it to dark, night-time video used by police. When applied to video of the bombing at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, the software clarified hand-held camcorder video, revealing important details that had been obscured.

The nasa video software "has the potential to stabilise images so that criminals and other important clues can be identified, even in blurred images", said Arsev H Eraslan, chief scientist of both the nasa National Technology Transfer Center and the Office of Law Enforcement Technology and Commercialisation, Wheeling, West Virginia.

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.