July 20 -Computer scientists in Spain have developed a 3D skull scanner that can identify skeletons when decomposition has rendered DNA and fingerprint testing impossible. The researchers at Granada University say their device could prove invaluable to officials trying to identify victims of mass disasters. Jim Drury has more.
This hand-held scanner could help forensic scientists speed up the arduous task of identifying skeletal remains. Called Face2Skull, the technology was designed by a team from European Centre for Soft Computing and Granada University. It was led by Sergio Damas. SOUNDBITE (English) SERGIO DAMAS, PRINCIPAL RESEARCHER AT THE EUROPEAN CENTRE FOR SOFT COMPUTING, SAYING: "The main aim of this scanner is to acquire an accurate 3D model of the skull in a fast and easy user-friendly fashion, so from that point of view the expert should move around the skull in a comfortable way, in order to precisely scan the whole skull from the different views, in order to acquire the frontal part of the skull." The system is based on the forensic identification technique known as craniofacial superimposition. Craniometric points on the skull are compared with somatometric points on photographs of individuals who are missing until a suitable match is found. SOUNDBITE (English) SERGIO DAMAS, PRINCIPAL RESEARCHER AT THE EUROPEAN CENTRE FOR SOFT COMPUTING, SAYING: "DNA analysis or fingerprints are not applicable in many different situations and the only, last, chance to identify a person is the human remains based on the skeleton and in particular the skull of the person, so finally the main aim is to accurately project the skull into the photograph in order for the expert, in order for the forensic anthropologist to make a decision on the forensic identification of that particular person." The team's initial tests used CAT scans from live individuals, the first time that skulls of living subjects have been used in this field. The researchers created a database using tridimensional cranial coordinates, allowing researchers to determine the spatial relationship between each point on the skull. Science and Artifical Intelligence professor Oscar Cordon says the technology is simple to use. SOUNDBITE (English) OSCAR CORDON, FULL PROFESSOR OF DEPARTMENT OF SCIENCE AND ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AT UNIVERSITY OF GRANADA, SAYING: "A forensic anthropologist who has no expertise on image processing is able to do it by himself or herself in a pretty quick and robust way....so artificial intelligence decides between two and four minutes to superimpose the the 3D model of the skull over the 2D face picture." Its creators say Face2Skull can recognise skulls in at least 85 percent of cases and might be particularly useful in the aftermath of mass disasters. It could be used to discard thousands of potential identities of an individual corpse before more expensive or slower techniques are tried. Mexican police recently signed a contract to purchase the technology to help identify victims of its brutal drug war It's already been used successfully by Spanish authorities to identify a missing Portuguese pensioner, demonstrating its ability for helping scientists and families of the dead. Jim Drury, Reuters