Software helps investigators in search for bombing suspect - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Software helps investigators in search for bombing suspect

Computer software aided investigators in sifting through pictures and surveillance of bombing suspect. Computer software aided investigators in sifting through pictures and surveillance of bombing suspect.

The identification of two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing turned into a gratifying coup for software developers at Intergraph in Madison who developed systems to sort through the dizzying volume of images and videos that investigators in Boston confronted.

"Obviously it works" chuckled Gene Grindstaff, Executive Manager and Chief Scientist of Video Products at Intergraph.

In the aftermath of the bombing, agencies like Boston Police and the F.B.I. found they were dealing with more than ten thousand images and videos, a daunting bonanza of evidence that could easily have overwhelmed even the huge force assembled to investigate the case.

"15 years ago," Grindsaff recalled, "you were lucky you could find a video of a crime scene.    Now it's a completely different problem. Everyone's got a smart phone. Now it's a case of trying to figure out how many thousands of videos you'll have."  

Intergraph's "Video Analyst" system enhances and clarifies photos and images but, very importantly in a case like the Boston bombing, it helps sort video by time and place created.  It's a system that takes full advantage of the fact that so many surveillance camera and smart phone videos include data such as time and GPS coordinates, allowing for a four dimensional virtual re-creation of a crime scene.

"Once you find where the incident occurred, then you'd like to be able to work back and find out where did the perpetrator come from. How did he get there? Can you go back a week, two weeks, three weeks."

Intergraph originally developed the system for use in reconnaissance by satellites and military drones but, since 2000, it has also been offered for law enforcement use.

Subsequent advances in computer technology have made it smarter, and cheaper. Now, "all the three letter agencies have it," Grindstaff said. But so do smaller local police agencies. The city of Madison's police department, for example, confirms that it uses Video Analyst too.

Grindstaff acknowledges popular concerns that all those cameras, and the power to look through them, can carry a disturbing sense of "Big Brother" watching, but points out that in public places like the Boston Marathon, a tradeoff may be necessary.

"I'm concerned about that. Everyone's concerned about their rights and you have to balance that against being able to protect against terrorism and criminal activity," he said.   

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