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  • Robots Dust Packages for Fingerprints
May 2004
CALGARY, Alberta, May 7 -- Police who need to dust suspicious packages for fingerprints could someday rely on a robotic device to do this dangerous work.

Working with Sergeant Dave Wood of the Calgary Police Service, who came up with the original concept for the device, scientists from the University of Toronto and the University of Calgary helped develop a safe way to collect fingerprint evidence from packages that might be too dangerous for a human to approach.

FUMING FINGERPRINTS: A bomb disposal robot with a RAFFE attachment. (Image: Kristian Dixon)
   A study describing the development of the device, called a robot accessory for fuming fingerprint evidence (RAFFE), appears in the March 2004 issue of the Journal of Forensic Sciences.

Police robots now in use simply destroy suspicious packages, along with any fingerprint evidence. RAFFE consists of a small box with a heating element, a cartridge of Superglue and a 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 toward 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, before the package is (safely) disposed of.

"With recent terrorist threats, police would want to collect as much evidence as possible," said lead author Kristian Dixon, a third-year University of Toronto 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."

The study was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

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