March 1, 2006 4:05 PM PST

NASA laser device could assist at crime scenes

Warning: Objects in this photo may appear exactly to scale.

Technology developed by NASA engineers lets photographers add measurements to objects in a picture with the use of laser dots, the space agency said this week. That tool, which has helped NASA scientists find and analyze damage to spacecraft, may soon be widely useful to police investigating crime scenes.

The device, called the Laser Scaling and Measurement Device for Photographic Images, is a black box weighing about half a pound, and attaches directly to a camera. With twin lasers an inch apart, the tool can project a pattern of dots in a photographer's field of vision. Once the image loads into specialized software, the photographer can then set points of interest within the picture and set distances between those references.

The software sets the scale of objects based on distance, giving a viewer better perspective of an object's size whether it's close-up or faraway in the photo.

NASA scientists can now measure the distance from space shuttle damage to a door, for example. Similarly, forensic investigators can use the technology to understand blood-spatter patterns or graffiti in a crime scene, for example.

The tool, which runs on a single nickel-cadmium battery, was developed at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. The software was created by electrical design engineer Kim Ballard.

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