A NEW software tool has been developed to analyse footprints ranging from dinosaurs to those made by a criminal.
The Digitrace software has been created by by Bournemouth University researchers to allow analysis to be made freely available to police forces and forensic services.
It is the first integrated freeware product that allows crime scene officers to capture 3D images of footwear impressions with nothing more than a digital camera and then to visualise, get a closer look at, and compare these traces digitally.
The current cost of existing imaging software means that police and investigators are often reliant on outdated methods, such as plaster casts and visual comparison.
Professor Matthew Bennett hopes that the free Digtrace software would enable more forces to utilise the latest evidence techniques.
He said: "Footwear impressions provide an important source of evidence from crime scenes. They can help to determine the sequence of events and – if distinctive – can even link a suspect to multiple crime scenes.
"Evidence can either be 2D, in the form of mud or bodily fluids, or 3D, when a footprint impression has been left in a soft substance, such as soil.
"However, despite rapid advances in technology in forensic science, methods of examining 3D traces have changed little over the last fifty years."
The project was funded via an Innovation Award from the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to translate academic research into a practical application. Assistance was then received from project partners at the Home Office and the National Crime Agency.
He added that the software has the potential to make a 'significant difference' to the value of footwear evidence at crime scenes.
Dr Marcin Budka, a computer scientist at Bournemouth University, wrote much of the software code. He said: "We’ve been developing the software for the better part of a decade.
"What started as collection of tools for addressing specific research tasks and built using a variety of technologies has now been consolidated with the help of NERC into a standalone software suite.
“At the heart is some neat mathematics that underlies the various 3D transformations required. Keeping things simple, however, is the key to building trust with the end-users who are not computer scientists."