Dinosaurs to forensic science: Digital tracks and Traces (DigTrace)

Research Institution / Organisation

Bournemouth University

In Collaboration With

CAST; Home Office; National Crime Agency

Level of Research

Professional / Work-based

Project Start Date

August 2016

Research Context

The procedures used by crime scene officers have changed little in a hundred years; footwear evidence is still photographed and cast if deemed of importance. Footprints are the neglected ‘Cinderella’ evidence of the crime scene, especially as time pressures of CSI grows. We are addressing this by placing a simple tool for the 3D analysis of footwear evidence in the hands of every CSI officer. The research team at Bournemouth have fused computer and earth sciences to translate academic research on fossil footprints into freeware for use by police forces and forensic services across the UK.

Developed from a decade of research at Bournemouth University on fossil footprints, the freeware was created via a NERC Innovation Award and in conjunction with the Home Office and National Crime Agency. DigTrace provides a bespoke solution to the analysis of footwear evidence. By translating academic research and technical ‘know‐how’ into software the authors have the potential to place 3D imaging of footwear evidence in the hands of every police force in the UK. DigTrace caters for the complete workflow associated with the analysis of footprints/footwear evidence, from creating three‐dimensional models via photogrammetry, visualising those models and making a range of measurements, to computing mean tracks and/or comparing directly individual tracks or track populations. The software was launched in July 2016 and currently the project team are engaged in dissemination activity, gathering user feedback and enhancing the freeware in light of this.

You can find out more about the project at www.digtrace.co.uk

Research Methodology

The software is the product of over a decade of research into fossil footprints in a range of environments from across the world. Our current methodology and project status involves:

  1. Dissemination of the product and the potential that 3D footwear analysis holds. This activity is focused in the UK and in the USA.

  2. We are engaging with UK police forces in user testing and this is underway.

  3. We are developing web-based training materials and enhancing the user manual in light of user feedback. 

  4. We are developing a series of calibration and validation tests required to accredit the tool and associated techniques.

  5. We are actively looking for forces who wish to engage with us in web-enabling the product to overcome the limitations of IT infrastructure in some forces.

  6. We are actively looking forces who wish to engage with us in developing related tools for example applying these techniques to soft-tissue injuries and tool marks. 

  7. Finally we are preparing a series of peer reviewed publications, including a book to be published by Springer in 2017, which showcase and validate the use of 3D analysis of footwear evidence.

Interim reports and publications

​Interims publications, reports and manuals can be found at www.digtrace.co.uk

Professor Matthew Bennett and Professor Marcin Budka have published a book entitled Digital Technology for Forensic Footwear Analysis and Vertebrate Ichnology. (Reference:  Bennett, M.R. and Budka, M., 2018. Digital Technology for Forensic Footwear Analysis and Vertebrate Ichnology. Springer.)

Larsen HJ, Bennett MR. Empirical Evaluation of the Reliability of Photogrammetry Software in the Recovery of Three‐Dimensional Footwear Impressions. Journal of Forensic Sciences. 2020 May 14. 65(5) 1722-1729.

Date due for completion

February 2021
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