When police officers find suspicious packages today in an airport or a train station, they destroy them immediately, along with potential fingerprints on them. A new robotic device, dubbed RAFFE (short for "Robot Accessory for Fuming Fingerprint Evidence), developed by scientists from the University of Toronto (U of T) and the University of Calgary, offers a solution to this problem. Mounted on an ordinary robot, it will reveal fingerprints by releasing Super Glue™ on the object. Then it will take pictures of these fingerprints. The Calgary Police Service is already using RAFFE for field tests.
The device, developed by scientists from U of T and the University of Calgary, offers a safe way to collect fingerprint evidence from packages that might be too dangerous for a human to approach.
"With the recent terrorist threats, police would want to collect as much evidence as possible," says lead author Kristian Dixon, a third-year U of T engineering science student. "But if a bomb were to go off while an officer was manually dusting the package, he could either lose his hands or his life."
Here is how this works.
RAFFE consists of a small box with a heating element, cartridge of Superglue and short pipe. Using remote controls, police direct the robot to the package and heat the Superglue in the box. The glue produces fumes that are piped towards the package. The fumes, containing cyanoacrylate, react with the oils and moisture in the fingerprints, turning them white. The fingerprints can then be photographed using the robot's high-definition camera prior to the safe disposal of the package.
||Here is a photograph of RAFFE mounted on a Pedsco RMI-9WT robot used by the Calgary Police Service (Credit: Kristian Dixon, U of T).|
The research work about RAFFE appeared in the March 2004 of the Journal of Forensic Sciences. Here is the abstract of the paper, called "Development of a finger printing device for use on a mobile robot."
In this paper, we describe the development of a device for fuming fingerprints with cyanoacrylate (Super Glue™) to enable police tactical units to obtain fingerprint evidence from suspicious packages using a remote-controlled robot. Through a series of initial experiments and preliminary designs, we show that effective cyanoacylate fuming requires sufficient heat, humidity, and airflow. This work led to the development of a final working prototype, called robot accessory for fuming fingerprint evidence (RAFFE), which is currently being field tested by the Calgary Police Service.
If you want more information, here is a link to the full paper (PDF format, 10 pages, 414 KB, lots of illustrations).
Sources: Nicolle Wahl, University of Toronto, April 19, 2004; and various websites