A New Tool Could Make Fingerprint Analysis More Reliable

iStock
iStock

Contrary to what many would like to believe, fingerprint evidence isn't all that reliable. Partial prints and smudged prints can be difficult to read, and in the U.S. at least, fingerprint analysis is left to individual interpretation rather than a set of standards outlining what can be considered a match.

That could soon change, though. A statistical tool developed by a Department of Defense analyst is able to take two fingerprints and tell how probable it is that they came from the same person, according to Gizmodo. The software program, called FRStat, was used in a courtroom for the first time in February and is now available to any lab that wants to test it out.

Henry Swofford, of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory at the Department of Defense, spent four years working with statisticians to develop the software. It works by comparing images of the small features of fingerprint minutiae (ridges) against "similarly marked, known matches" in a database. The software is then able to calculate the likelihood that the prints were left by the same individual. A paper outlining the statistical method was published in the journal Forensic Science International.

"I want to strengthen the foundations of our science," Swofford told Gizmodo. "I also want to make sure the evidence is presented in a way that the guilty people are convicted, and the innocent are exonerated."

A 2011 study found a false positive rate of 0.1 percent among fingerprint readings, and there have been numerous high-profile cases of wrongful convictions over the years. In one example, Brandon Mayfield, a lawyer from Oregon, was arrested in connection with the 2004 Madrid train bombing after four experts agreed that his prints matched ones found on a bag at the scene. He was eventually released after that proved to be a mistake.

While FRStat isn't the first technology that attempts to make fingerprint analysis more accurate, it's the first one that has been developed for widespread, practical usage, according to Gizmodo.

[h/t Gizmodo]

Charge Your Gadgets Anywhere With This Pocket-Sized Folding Solar Panel

Solar Cru, YouTube
Solar Cru, YouTube

Portable power banks are great for charging your phone when you’re out and about all day, but even they need to be charged via an electrical outlet. There's only so much a power bank can do when you’re out hiking the Appalachian Trail or roughing it in the woods during a camping trip.

Enter the SolarCru—a lightweight, foldable solar panel now available on Kickstarter. It charges your phone and other electronic devices just by soaking up the sunshine. Strap it to your backpack or drape it over your tent to let the solar panel’s external battery charge during the day. Then, right before you go to bed, you can plug your electronic device into the panel's USB port to let it charge overnight.

It's capable of charging a tablet, GPS, speaker, headphones, camera, or other small wattage devices. “A built-in intelligent chip identifies each device plugged in and automatically adjusts the energy output to provide the right amount of power,” according to the SolarCru Kickstarter page.

A single panel is good “for small charging tasks,” according to the product page, but you can connect up to three panels together to nearly triple the electrical output. It takes roughly three hours and 45 minutes to charge a phone using a single panel, for instance, or about one hour if you’re using three panels at once. The amount of daylight time it takes to harvest enough energy for charging will depend on weather conditions, but it will still work on cloudy days, albeit more slowly.

The foldable panel weighs less than a pound and rolls up into a compact case that it can easily be tucked away in your backpack or jacket pocket. It’s also made from a scratch- and water-resistant material, so if you get rained out while camping, it won't destroy your only source of power.

You can pre-order a single SolarCru panel on Kickstarter for $34 (less than some power banks), or a pack of five for $145. Orders are scheduled to be delivered in March.

Watch Ford's Sweaty-Butt Robot Put a Car Seat to the Test

iStock.com/gargantiopa
iStock.com/gargantiopa

Buyers tend to look at price, safety, and gas mileage when shopping for a car; a question that rarely comes up at the dealership is how well a car seat stands up to years of butt sweat. But even if it isn't a priority for car owners, the vehicle testers at Ford work to ensure the cars that leave the factory can accommodate the sweatiest passengers.

The secret to Ford's durable seats is a device called the Robutt. This video from the car company shows a Kuka robotic arm pushing a buttocks-shaped cushion into a car seat. To replicate a person sitting in the car after exercising, the dummy butt is heated to approximately human body temperate and pumped with half a liter of water. The average person produces about 0.7 to 1.5 liters of sweat in one hour of intense exercise, and people who are especially fit perspire 1.5 to 1.8 liters in the same time.

The sit test is repeated 7500 times over three days—simulating one decade of someone driving their sweaty behind home from the gym. If the surface of a car seat can make it through all that abuse without any wear and tear, the design is good enough for a Ford vehicle. Robutt-approved seats were first introduced in the 2018 Ford Fiesta and are now being built into all Ford vehicles in Europe.

You can watch the messy process play out below. Here are some more robots that, like the Robutt, were designed for oddly specific tasks.

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