CSI in a box

Reconstructing human faces from skulls found by the police is nothing new, and it has already being done with computers. But this was a long process. Now, a Canadian startup company, HumanCore has developed a new human anatomy software to do the job in about 30 minutes and which also will be used by the clothing industry.
Written by Roland Piquepaille, Inactive

If you're not familiar with U.S. TV, CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) is a weekly CBS show which gathers about 20 million viewers and which routinely speaks about forensic facial reconstruction. Reconstructing human faces from skulls found by the police is nothing new, and it has already being done with computers. But this was a long process. Now, a Canadian startup company, HumanCore has developed a new human anatomy software to do the job in about 30 minutes. This software has already attracted the attention of law enforcement entities forces in the U.S. and in Canada. But it also can be used by mechanical engineers to design new products or even by the clothing industry.

HumanCore is basically a technology to simulate the assembly of human bones, muscles, cartilages and skin in software using parametric CAD technology. There are many applications for this technology, but the first release focuses on automated cranio-facial reconstruction.

Here is how it works.

As seen in a CSI episode (Who Are You), the current method used in forensics is to create a clay reconstruction on top of the skull to identify. It usually takes from 3 days to several months, depending on the skills of the artists and amounts of details. The following photo is an example of this approach (Credit: Jean N. Prudent, HumanCore, as well as all the other pictures below).

Skull clay reconstruction

With HumanCore, you just have to scan the geometry of the skull and load this into the program.

Scanning a skull for HumanCore

Then, you must reorient the skull and apply "fit markers" which are points on the skull that allow the software to recognize the main morphological features. Without these, there is no way for the software to know where are the eye sockets or the nose cavity for example. At this stage, some regions can be "painted" red to define them as "undefined". This allows the software to reconstruct damaged skulls with missing regions, which is a common occurrence in murder cases.

Applying fit markers with HumanCore

In the next step, you just launch the automated reconstruction process. What the software does is try to deform its internal bone representation to fit the scanned skull's geometry. The process is made possible by the presence of the fit markers.

HumanCore automated reconstruction process

Finally, you must input the vital stats (age, gender, ancestry and level of fitness) and select the appropriate "standard average tissue depth table" for the reconstruction. The vital stats are usually provided by an experienced physical anthropologist since it is impossible for the software to determine this on its own. The tables define the depth of soft tissue between the skull and the skin. The software includes standard tables that have been compiled for several population groups all over the world (Europeans, Asians, Africans, etc.).

HumanCore vital stats

Jean Prudent, the author of the software, told me that the whole process lasted less than 30 minutes, which obviously, would speed forensics research. I've asked him what he thought about the market.

Cranio-facial reconstruction is a niche market, but its physical anthropology foundations, just like mathematics and physics have applications in many other fields including paleo-anthropology, gross anatomy, kinanthropology and of course ergonomics. We're currently working on a SolidWorks plug-in implementation, which will allow designers of implants and anaplastologists to test their designs before.

This software will be sold for US $1,495. This might be pocket money for a large city police department, but if the company wants to enter other market segments, such as the fashion industry, which uses many freelance graphic designers, will the price be too high? Here is Prudents' answer.

You are right: this is not tool for artists. This is a scientific software and as such, it was priced to be affordable to current users of Mathematica and MathCAD ($1,200 to $1,700) as well as users of SolidWorks ($3,000-$4,000). Students enrolled in legitimate university programs benefit from the same deep discount available for Mathematica, which makes it affordable to them too. Initial feedback tells me that the pricing is correct in that context. The individuals from the fashion industry who contacted us were interested in the scientific aspects of human variations (linking population surveys to production planning) -- they were not designers or artists."

With its parametric musculo-skeleton engine integrated with a 2D/3D graphics editor, this software also can be used for many other CAD projects, such as designing wheelchairs or portable consumer electronics.

Below is an illustration showing the parametric musculo-skeleton engine.

HumanCore musculo-skeleton engine

For more information about this software, which should be available soon, please read the HumanCore brochure from which the last image was extracted (PDF format, 2 pages, 10.6 MB).

[Disclaimer: I have absolutely no ties with this company and I haven't personally used this software. So please try it before opening your checkbook.]

Sources: Roland Piquepaille, January 4, 2006; and HumanCore web site

You'll find related stories by following the links below.

Editorial standards