Improving Real Lineups in a Virtual World

Sure, virtual reality is pretty cool to begin with, but when it's paired with police investigations and is used to take down the criminal underbelly? Ah, the possibilities.

Using computers, cameras and a $25,000 virtual-reality helmet (the type with big, blocky glasses and everything), Stanford University scientists have created an improved police-lineup system. With the new system, victims view suspects up close, with different clothing and features (with facial hair, for instance, or without scars) and in an environment similar to where the crime took place (like a dark alley or used-car lot). Instead of looking at potentially outdated, two-dimensional mug shots, a victim could see suspects out of the corner of his eye, or towering over him, mimicking the circumstances in which the criminal was originally seen and reducing the possibility of wrongful conviction.

Although the system is only in the early stages of testing, given the advances being made in digital imaging [see here for a particularly jarring example], it may be just a matter of time before it becomes standard criminal-collaring equipment.—Abby Seiff