ODL Developing 3D/VR Prototype for Forensics Group

It’s no secret that the act of learning happens everywhere, not just inside of a classroom. This important realization has facilitated a major shift in how we present students with their content. Recently, our team has been exploring ways to offer students immersive virtual reality (VR) as part of their online course experience. In an effort to further explore these endeavors, we’ve started working with the Forensics group at Penn State to develop a VR Crime Scene prototype.

Forensics Crime Scene Prototype

The prototype uses A-Frame (a VR framework originally created by Mozilla) and web components to leverage HTML in the modern web browser. Using these frameworks, we are able to build interactive virtual scenes (rooms) with inspectable 3D objects (evidence) for students to explore. Typically, VR is experienced through head-gear and hand-controls. In an educational setting, requiring expensive equipment for each student can be a difficult logistical barrier to overcome.  A-Frame, however, offers a unique hybrid solution allowing users to participate using only their web browser when select equipment is not available. The results produce unique environments which can be experienced through most common devices (computers, phones, tablets, etc.).

Forensics Crime Scene Prototype - Living Room

The individual scenes of the prototype application are built using a 360 camera to capture an image or video. The image or video is then placed inside of A-Frame using an <a-sky> HTML tag which accesses the A-Frame library and lets the browser know that it’s going to be displaying an A-Frame element. We met up with Katie Mantz (Course / Curriculum Developer - Forensic Science) and her team to gather several 360 images and videos at the cottages (designated buildings that Penn State uses to stage crime-scenarios for students in the Forensics program).

Katie shares her thoughts on the experience:

"Working with the ODL is opening a whole new world of possibilities. The process of building our VR/3D world has been easy and fun. The ODL staff spent a couple of hours taking photos and videos of our chosen crime scene and evidence, and from there they began building our prototype - which gets better every time we see it. We cannot wait to see the final product and share it with our students!"

Forensics Crime Scene Prototype - 3D Model Skull

Once we secured the 360 images/videos, we then overlaid select items contained within the 360 image or video with clickable hotspots. Once ‘clicked’, the hotspots trigger interactions where students can granularly explore 3D models for more details while recording their thoughts. In the example above, we can see that the skull-object located on the bookshelf was fitted with a clickable hotspot. After being 'clicked', a dialog window opened revealing a detailed 3D skull model which could be rotated and further explored. On the right, we can see an area reserved for writing down observations.   While this application is still just a prototype, it clearly demonstrates the potential for VR as an educational tool.The incorporation of virtual reality and other cutting-edge technology into our curriculum allows us to provide a dynamic, more realistic experience for our students in crime scene and evidence processing scenarios where in-person labs are not possible. Beyond the classroom, virtual reality also looks to be the next big thing in training for law enforcement and CSI professionals. There are law enforcement agencies currently working on creating VR experiences similar to what we are developing with the ODL as training tools, and we look forward to counting ourselves among the innovators within this new trend in the community.

Where are we going from here?

We plan to work with Katie and the Forensics team to storyboard and finalize a realistic crime scene scenario. From there, we will continue building out the application to include additional features and functionality; we have some great ideas moving forward, so we're excited to see how the project evolves.

Contact us if you have an idea you want to try!