Assembling the Story
Featured image credit: Forensic Architecture, Drone Strike Investigation Case #3; MSNBC
Back in July, I wrote a post called Threshold of Detectability, inspired by Eyal Weizman’s book Forensic Architecture. In the piece I discussed the inherent power structure that exists within the data technology industry by way of restricted access to information, often with the intent to obscure certain facts or events. It feels like nothing ever changes, and the struggle between individual privacy and government transparency wages as strongly as ever.
Later in his book, Weizman talks about reassembling a structure destroyed by drone strike in Miranshah, North Waziristan; the only evidence available being a shaky camera phone video. Stills from the video were assembled into a larger view of the bombed structure, and made a reconstruction possible. I was impressed by the persistence of the team and the investigative precision employed. I thought about impossible stories and the duty that investigators have to tell them.
In the months since that first post I’ve gotten to work on an incredible batch of cases, which gave me an opportunity to learn new techniques and applications for 3d modeling, including reverse-projection photogrammetry. One (still active) case in particular provided us with a jigsaw puzzle of evidence, and no one piece could effectively tell the story alone.
Our goal was to determine the path of a vehicle crossing an intersection just before a collision occurred. Having recreated the scene in SketchUp using laser scan data we were able to match still frame images taken from security camera footage to an identical view in the 3d model. This gave us a framework to determine the vehicle position at a given point in time, and identify the likely point of collision.
Our work often requires the use video footage, but in this particular case the footage was blurry, and the camera placement was unfortunate, with tree branches obscuring many of the important details. There will always be unknowable things that make our job challenging. Terrible security camera footage is very common, so we sometimes we find ourselves edging into the territory of investigator, using visual tools to identify and assemble bits of information until the story becomes clear.