University of Dundee specialists have developed a new virtual reality (VR) training tool to give fire investigators a way to practice in a simulated environment.
Working in conjunction with Danish police fire investigators, researchers from the university’s Leverhulme Research Center for Forensic Science (LRCFS) and Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design (DJCAD) created a virtual fire scene environment using digital images taken following real fires.
The training of police and fire investigators often requires the controlled burning of simulated fire scenes. These are installed in shipping containers or abandoned properties, allowing investigators to explore the scene and draw conclusions about where the fire started and what caused the fire.
While these tests are efficient and provide a physical space to conduct investigations, test fires are expensive, unsustainable, and harmful to the environment.
Capturing the aftermath of a controlled burn using digital imagery and VR technology allows a site to be used in multiple training sessions while providing a realistic setting for investigators to explore and examine the scene in an environment sure.
Professor Niamh Nic Daeid, Director of LRCFS, said: “We have been looking for some time at how virtual reality can aid fire scene investigations and crime scene investigations.
“What is most important is that we ensure that we use virtual reality in a way that is underpinned by a sound scientific approach that will stand up to the scrutiny of our legal systems and courts and we are now pioneers of this approach in Scotland.”
The Leverhulme team are working with fire investigators from the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) Forensic Services and fire investigators from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) to explore operational opportunities using virtual reality in fire investigations in Scotland. Investigators from both sides visited the University this week to try it out for the first time.
Karen Robertson, SPA Forensic Services, said: “This has been a fantastic collaborative opportunity for fire service investigators from the forensic services and our fire service colleagues. Fire investigators used virtual reality to investigate the same fire scene whose origin and cause are known. The resulting data will be used to improve the provision of forensic crime scene fire investigations to court for the people of Scotland.
To create the technology, specialists worked with Danish police fire investigators to capture and develop realistic VR scenes using abandoned buildings in southern Denmark. These were staged and burned, and hundreds of images were taken using methods developed in Dundee to document the site in the aftermath of the fire.
The developed program has already been implemented in fire investigation training in Denmark.
Eva Ljungkvist, Special Crime Unit, Danish Police, said: “The feedback from the sessions has been fantastic. Investigators used the tool effectively while applying scientific methods to conduct their investigation. This is exactly what we want to see.
“This partnership is a great success, and we look forward to continuing this joint venture with the organizations involved.”
In September, the National Robotarium, alongside the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, announced the development of a AI-powered smart helmet which helps firefighters better locate victims.
The smart helmet could help firefighters quickly map their surroundings and allow fire and rescue teams to more easily and efficiently navigate hazardous environments to locate fire victims.
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