How self-driving car tech could help forensic scientists find murder victims

lidar finding bodies unmarked graves a s anthropology

Lidar, the radar-style detection system which works by bouncing laser light, is most commonly associated with self-driving cars. However, it may have another useful, albeit morbid, application: Helping find bodies which have been buried in unmarked graves.

Sound like something out of an episode of CSI? In fact, it’s a new piece of research coming out of Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where scientists have been investigating how lidar could be used a forensics tool to find missing murder victims — potentially even from an aircraft.

“Missing persons investigations pose a significant societal challenge, as well as a time-sensitive technological challenge,” Dr. Katie Corcoran, one of the researchers on the project, told Digital Trends. “Of the millions of missing persons worldwide who are unaccounted for, some are thought to be deceased and buried in unmarked graves. A gravesite can go unnoticed because of natural processes, where the site becomes covered with grass or leaves, for instance. Or the site could have been deliberately masked by a perpetrator trying to hide the body. In either case, the longer the gravesite goes unnoticed, the more difficult it is to locate.”

In the Oak Ridge researchers’ experiment, they used lidar to scan an area containing three human graves of various sizes (containing the buried corpses of individuals who had donated their bodies for research), alongside one control pit and surrounding undisturbed ground. They then compared the rates of surface elevation change, based on the data collected from each scan. This was done one day after the burial, four months after the burial, and 21 months after.

What they discovered was that the most obvious surface elevation changes are observed immediately after a grave is created, when it takes the form of loosened soil. However, these changes persist as the surface loses elevation during the period of body decomposition and soil settling. Although they may not be noticeable by the human eye, the changing ground elevations could nonetheless help narrow sites which could then be further examined by forensics crews.

“Our approach is intended to augment the grave discovery process, which may include other established methods such as pedestrian surveys, soil probing, and sampling, or ground-penetrating radar (GPR),” Corcoran continued. “Lidar is advantageous in that the visual results are more intuitive than GPR, a method commonly used for grave detection but notoriously difficult to interpret.”

A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal Forensic Science International.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Write music with your voice, make homemade cheese

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Home Theater

The best Dolby Atmos movies for your home theater sound as good as they look

If you've got your hands on some sweet Dolby Atmos gear, the next step is to find films that take advantage of it. These are our picks in several genres for the best Dolby Atmos movies currently available on Blu-ray and streaming services.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Netflix in March, from Buster Scruggs to Roma

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Emerging Tech

Desk lamps take on a new task by converting their light to power

What if we could charge devices using light from indoor sources like desk lamps? A group of scientists working on a technology called organic photovoltaics (OPVs) aim to do just that.
Emerging Tech

Body surrogate robot helps people with motor impairments care for themselves

A team from Georgia Tech has come up with an assistant robot to help people who have severe motor impairments to perform tasks like shaving, brushing their hair, or drinking water.
Emerging Tech

A.I.-generated text is supercharging fake news. This is how we fight back

A new A.I. tool is reportedly able to spot passages of text written by algorithm. Here's why similar systems might prove essential in a world of fake news created by smart machines.
Emerging Tech

New Hubble image displays dazzling Messier 28 globular cluster

Messier 28 is a group of stars in the constellation of Sagittarius, located 18,000 light-years from our planet. Thousands of stars are packed tightly together in this sparkling image.
Emerging Tech

Cosmic dust bunnies: Scientists find unexpected ring around Mercury

A pair of scientists searching for a dust-free region near the Sun have made an unexpected discovery: a vast cosmic dust ring millions of miles wide around the tiny planet Mercury.
Emerging Tech

Take a dip in the Lagoon Nebula in first image from SPECULOOS instrument

The European Southern Observatory has released the first image collected by their new SPECULOOS instrument, and it's a stunning portrait of the Lagoon Nebula, a swirling cloud of dust and gas where new stars are born.
Emerging Tech

Robot assistants from Toyota and Panasonic gear up for the Tokyo Olympics

Japan plans to use the 2020 Olympics to showcase a range of its advanced technologies. Toyota and Panasonic are already getting in on the act, recently unveiling several robotic designs that they intend to deploy at the event.
Emerging Tech

Racing to catch a flight? Robot valet at French airport will park your car

Hate searching for parking at the airport when you need to catch a plane? Startup Stanley Robotics recently unveiled a new outdoor automated robotic valet system. Here's how it works.
Business

Bags with brains: Smart luggage and gadgets are making travel smoother

The bag you use to tote your stuff can affect the experience of any trip. In response, suitcases are wising up, and there are now options for smart luggage with scales, tracking, and more. Here are our favorite pieces.
Computing

At $99, Nvidia’s Jetson Nano minicomputer seeks to bring robotics to the masses

Nvidia announced a new A.I. computer, the Jetson Nano. This computer comes with an 128-core GPU that Nvidia claims can handle pretty much any A.I. framework you could imagine. At $99, it's an affordable way for A.I. newbies to get involved.