#2 – Jason C. Fries

Jason C. Fries is a forensic scientist and founder of 3D Forensic, Inc. Over the last 25+ years, Jason has been a been a pioneer in developing modern standards in forensic laser scanning, forensic animation, nighttime visibility, and officer-involved shooting (OIS) reconstruction, molding the industry’s methods and growth since its inception.

Episode Transcript:

LIDAR Magazine Podcast Series: #2 – Jason C. Fries

January 22nd, 2024

Announcer: Welcome to the LIDAR Magazine Podcast, bringing measurement, positioning and imaging technologies to light. This event was made possible thanks to the generous support of rapidlasso, producer of the LAStools software suite.

Stewart Walker: Hello and welcome to the LIDAR Magazine podcasts. My name is Stewart Walker and I’m the Managing Editor of LIDAR Magazine. This is the second podcast in the series and I feel privileged to have been asked to host them.

I want to welcome my guest today, Jason C. Fries. He’s the Founder, CEO and Lead Forensic Expert of 3D Forensic, a forensic technology team based in downtown San Francisco. Our maneuvers in finding a time and date for this conversation, I think, reflect on the fact that his company is very busy and very successful.

Now, I’m delighted that Jason was educated—a Bachelor of Science in biology and physics at San Diego State University—where I have the honor of being a member of adjunct faculty; so we’ve got a little thing in common there.

More importantly, Jason is a contributing writer to LIDAR Magazine and his articles have already appeared in print issues and are on the website. We also published a short piece about Jason himself, something we like to do when a new contributing writer comes onboard.

Jason founded his company in 2012, although he and some members of his team have been in the application area since 1997.

Before we begin, however, I want to acknowledge the liaison work done by Sean Daly, Jason’s Director of Public Relations, in preparing both the articles and this podcast.

So, Jason, welcome. Thank you for your contributions to the magazine. Please tell us a little about yourself, your career and how you came to found 3D Forensic.

Jason Fries: Sure. Well, and thank you for having me, Stewart. About myself, which I’m always – feel a little awkward talking about myself; I feel like my mother does a better job of it than I do. {Laughter} But, as you stated, I’ve been in this industry since 1997. Before that I was actually a physics teacher and had the unique opportunity to work on a forensic case and I fell in love with forensics ever since and made it my passion and my career for close to 26 years now.

I started off working in partnership with my brother and he was essentially a researcher and vision scientist and we started working together on driving simulators to try to figure out how people react to and how they see things when they’re driving.

And then we started working together and had an opportunity to expand our repertoire. We are scientists first and foremost and not engineers. And I think one of the reasons that allowed us to branch out into new, interesting areas is that scientists, we take a scientific method and part of being a scientist is doing experiments, failing, learning from your failures and succeeding.

And through the last 25 years we’ve been able to come up with new forms and new technology to help in the forensic world that didn’t exist beforehand. I think my brother and I were too naïve to not realize that we weren’t supposed to do that; we were supposed to stay in our lane, stay in our box.

And we didn’t really follow that route and one of the things that we’re really excited about is we were the ones who invented forensic laser scanning, did our very first scan in using a laser scanner back in 1998 near the beginning of our career.

And then over the last 25 years have been able to use lidar in ways to fundamentally change how forensics are done in the industry today and it’s been a really fun journey to try to learn and we’re still learning. We still find new, interesting ways to use laser scanning to better reconstruct what happens in an accident or an officer-involved shooting.

Stewart Walker: So, that usage of laser scanning in 1998, you think that was the first one in forensics?

Jason Fries: Yes. The reason why I’m pretty confident, I do know that in 1999 we were the first ones to ever get laser scanning admitted into court. That right there tells us that chances are it’s the first time.

But the other time we realized we have a good idea was the first time, is when we contacted the laser scan company—in this case it was Leica that we contacted—and told them what we wanted to do. They said they’ve never heard of their equipment being used in that manner and that they’ve never sold a scanner to anybody for the use of forensics.

And, in fact, when we first used it in an officer-involved shooting, the scanner actually couldn’t do what we wanted it to do and so we worked hand-in-hand with Leica, worked with their software, worked with their engineers, to tweak the scanner itself and the software to make it do what we needed it to do. So, that’s another indication that we were the first ones to ever use it.

Now, if somebody somewhere comes along and says, “Here, we used it in 1996,” then that’s fantastic. But as of date, I have no knowledge that we weren’t the first one to actually use it.

Stewart Walker: That’s fascinating. Actually, I was working for Leica at that time and that must have been shortly after they acquired the Californian company Cyra which was a pioneer in the development of laser scanners that at that time were all mounted on tripods.

Jason Fries: Yes, in fact, you are correct. It was Cyra who we were working with directly. My brother, who works for me, recently reminded me that it was actually Cyra that we worked with first and who we contacted first and they were the ones we worked hand-in-hand with to try to get the Cyra scanner to do what we needed to do.

And was really grateful for their work and their interest. They could have very well said, “We didn’t make a scanner to do forensics; we made it to do more engineering things.” But they – I think they saw the value in it so they took the time and energy to work with us to make it work.

One of the biggest challenges was is the scanner could not pick up a recognized ballistic trajectory rod and that was the biggest – one of the biggest challenges. You’d scan a trajectory rod and it wouldn’t see it and so they worked hand-in-hand with us to fix that and get over that challenge.

Stewart Walker: Yes, that must have been a software fix as opposed to changing the point density of a laser point cloud.

Jason Fries: Yes, I suspect it was probably on the software side mostly because the scanner that we first used didn’t work and then we worked with them and the scanner we used that did work looked like the same exact scanner. So, I suspect it was probably more on the software side.

Stewart Walker: It’s fascinating this, and maybe this would be a good moment just to go back a little bit. How was this done before you introduced laser scanning? Was it done with traditional land surveying techniques?

Jason Fries: Yes. I mean, before laser scanning came along I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to walk out in the middle of a busy road with a prism on a pole and somebody else – we had at the time in our office, we had somebody who was a licensed land surveyor and he would talk to me through a walkie-talkie and tell me to move left and right and what I had to do.

And so, before laser scanning came along if we wanted to do an accident scene, it would take two people, we’d be there all day many times into the night using a flashlight to help guide the total station operator to where I was. And if we were lucky we’d come home with a couple hundred points that we would have to connect the dots and build from.

That was very challenging and very limiting; it also prevented us from going a lot of directions. It’s one thing to use a traditional system to map an intersection, but you’re obviously not going to go map a freeway in that regard; it would be way too dangerous and too cumbersome.

But that was the way it used to be done and laser scanning completely revolutionized the forensic world. In fact, I can’t think of a tool in the last 25 years that is more important to the forensic world than laser scanning.

Stewart Walker: Well, tell us about the sensors that you use today. Are they all mounted on tripods that sit on the ground or do you use mobile systems mounted on vehicles or in backpacks or did you use lidar from UAVs?

Jason Fries: We certainly still do a traditional on-the-ground tripod method. That method still seems to handle, I would say, 90% of the work that we do. We have definitely done lidars connected to both a drone before and a plane. In fact, I’m actually a pilot myself but I’ve not had the pleasure of mounting one to my own plane, but we have mounted it to other planes where we’ve done a lot of fire investigations.

In our area of the woods there’s been a lot of unfortunate forest fires that have devastated a lot of areas and so a lot of lawsuits and a lot of understanding of what happened and we’ve been hired to work on those cases. And the areas that we’ve done are so large that traditional methods on the ground just weren’t going to cut it. And so we would use airborne lidar.

And then we’ve also done ones that have been connected to vehicles and driven down roads to do that as well. They’re all different tools and they’re all really good for the area that you need them for.

It’s really becoming fascinating how the technology is becoming better and better and less expensive and more unique tools. We even have handheld ones that are great for doing an area that – indoors and large areas and those are helpful as well.

Stewart Walker: Do you use photogrammetry as well as laser scanning? I presume that would help with the visualization.

Jason Fries: Yes, I will take a little bit of credit. My brother and I pioneered the first use of laser-based photogrammetry. The first time that it was ever admitted into court was in Los Angeles County in 2001. Again, we found that doing laser-based photogrammetry was far superior to the method we were using beforehand and it’s a staple of what we do.

In fact, photogrammetry is probably one of the most important things that we use laser scanning for, especially when it comes to shooting events where we are trying to reconstruct a 3D environment where a shooting occurred and all we have are photographs of the scene where blood might be found, where bullet shell casings might be found, where evidence is found. If the law enforcement did not laser scan the area, the next best method is to use photogrammetry to reverse engineer it.

Stewart Walker: Now, before we go into detail and talk about any particular cases, could you give us an idea of the sort of questions that your work would be used to answer?

Jason Fries: There’s a lot of questions that we use our work to answer; it all depends on what we’re going for. For example, when it comes to auto accidents, one of the great things about laser scanning is if you laser scan a vehicle and then you laser scan the environment where the accident happened, one of the questions we can immediately find out is, did this accident happen because there’s a line-of-sight issue?

For example, did this accident happen because the A-pillar of the vehicle blocked the view of the pedestrian coming off the sidewalk? Did the tree on the corner block somebody’s view of a person or a cyclist? That’s a question that if you want the answer to a high level, laser scanning is a must-have for that.

When it comes to shooting cases, often what will occur is you’ll want to figure out what position a shooter was in and what position the person who got shot was in. In order to figure that out, you need to reconstruct the environment where the shooting took place. Laser scanning is the quickest way to reverse engineer and build a 3D model of the environment.

But again, if there are no measurements or the measurements were done poorly but there are photographs of the bullet holes in the wall or there’s photographs of where shell casings were found or maybe photographs of where an officer marked the ground and said, “I was standing right here when the person got shot,” laser-based photogrammetry will allow us to reverse engineer that and then tell people, “We know exactly where the bullet holes are, we know exactly where the officer was standing.”

And finally, the one I think is the biggest is often things are captured on video, whether it’s a security camera capturing an accident, a body-worn camera by a police officer to capture a shotting, a dash cam, what have you, and people want to know, “How fast was that car moving through the intersection?” or “We see that the car put on its brakes. At what deceleration did that car slow down at?”

Laser-based photogrammetry allows us to reverse engineer and track the exact location of that car; therefore, we can tell you exactly how fast that vehicle is moving. We can also tell you exactly how fast it was slowing down.

That might be useful if we test that vehicle and we know that vehicle can slow down at, let’s say, .8Gs, but in the video we see it slowing down at .2Gs, we can then say that a person who applied the brakes didn’t apply them very hard or they could have applied them better. There’s just so many questions that we are asked to answer; those are just kind of the few just right off the top of my head.

Stewart Walker: Thank you. It’s fascinating and before we go into it in more depth now, we’ll just have a quick word from our sponsor rapidlasso.

Host: The LIDAR Magazine Podcast is brought to you by rapidlasso. Our LAStools software suite offers the fastest and most memory efficient solution for batch-scripted multi-core lidar processing. Watch as we turn billions of lidar points into useful products at blazing speeds with impossibly low memory requirements. For seamless processing of the largest datasets, we also offer our BLAST extension. Visit rapidlasso.de for details.

Stewart Walker: There’s a very clear description on your website of your firm: “3D Forensic, Inc. is a forensic technology firm offering forensic analysis, expert witness testimony and courtroom animation. We work with all legal teams to capture pertinent data, provide unbiased analysis and visualize the facts. This process separates us from most firms who provide forensic animation without a scientific approach.” And you’ve already touched on that.

Now, I’ve read the descriptions of the members of your team on your website and their range of talents is quite remarkable. I was just wondering whether any of you are lawyers as well?

Jason Fries: No, we don’t have any lawyers on the staff and there’s a really good reason for that. What we want to do is be unbiased; not that lawyers are biased – well, lawyers are biased, but that’s their job. A lawyer’s an advocate for their client and a good advocate is going to be biased towards their client.

And so, we have a staff of people that allows us to be completely unbiased and just follow the scientific approach. So, while I have a lot of lawyer friends, they would not be a useful staff member.

Stewart Walker: I understand. That’s logical. Obviously—and it’s clear from what you’ve already said—one of the keys to your success is animation and then visualization. And I’m curious about how the visualization works. Do you typically show these in court on large screens so that they can be viewed by both judge and jury as well as the defense and prosecution teams? And also you’ve written in one of the articles about virtual reality. How does that work in practice?

Jason Fries: Well, to answer your first question, very astute observation. The important thing is anytime you show anything in the court you have to set up a system that allows not only the jury to see your work but the judge needs to be able to see it and opposing counsel needs to be able to see it because often before you can show anything to the jury, the judge needs to approve it.

So, typically the method they do now is there will be a monitor specifically just for the jury to watch, there will be a monitor specifically just for the judge to watch and then there will be monitors for both defense and plaintiff. And then sometimes they’ll even have another monitor for the witness. Sometimes you may have five monitors in the room.

But back in the day when we first did this, they used to roll in a tubed TV, a 25- or 40-inch TV, roll it in on a TV cart reminiscent of school, roll it in front of the judge and then roll it over in front of the jury and roll it in front of the – and often what they’d do is attorneys would have to get up and stand next to the jury to watch it themselves. So, the technology has gotten a little better but that’s how it used to be.

For your second question, virtual reality, the best way it’s being used now is for the witness to wear the virtual reality goggles and then have what they are seeing in their goggles projected to a TV or a monitor that everybody else can see.

The advantage of that in a case where virtual reality goggles are really useful, the first case we used it for was a case involving a light rail vehicle. For anybody who doesn’t know what that is, think of a trolley car or a cable car or above-ground subway system. Those are called light rail because the railroad tracks that they use are smaller and narrower, they’re not like – they’re not tracks that freight would carry on.

So, we had a case in San Francisco where a light rail vehicle maintained and run by the City of San Francisco was going down a street and a young kid 12 years old was running to catch that light rail vehicle and that light rail vehicle typically stops at the corner every time because it’s a place for people to be dropped off and get on.

And so, the kid rain across the street thinking that vehicle was going to stop but because there was nobody at the stop to get on and nobody on the light rail vehicle asked to get off, when that happens, when there’s nobody getting on or getting off, the light rail vehicle doesn’t stop. And, unfortunately, the kid got impacted and died due to his injuries.

The big issue was, why didn’t the operator see the child running? And by laser scanning the scene, laser scanning the inside of the light rail vehicle and the vehicle on the outside and then tracking the position due to the fact that this vehicle had cameras on it, we could track exactly the position of the child and exactly the position of the light rail vehicle.

And then because there was a camera inside we could track the exact position of the driver’s head which means we could track the exact position of his left eye and his right eye.

And when we reconstructed everything and watched it through his left and right eye, sure enough the A-pillar on this vehicle is very large, much larger than a car that we’re used to, and sure enough the kid was inside that blind spot the entire time until just about a second before impact.

And so, the City of San Francisco said, “It’s not our fault, our driver couldn’t see this kid.” But in their regulations it tells drivers have to move their head back and forth in a rock-and-roll manner for this exact reason; they know their vehicles have blind spots and by moving your head back and forth you really kind of diminish what blind spots exist.

So, the virtual reality glasses were perfect in this situation because we could put them on the head of myself, in this case, and then I can be on the stand and I can say, “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this is what it looks like when you keep your head still” and they could see on the monitor that my head’s not moving and watch the animation happen and watch the kid get hit.

And I said, “Great, now let’s play it again,” but since it’s virtual reality and it’s interactive, we started the animation again but then I just moved my head side-to-side very gently and the jury could watch me move my head side-to-side and see it’s not very much, it’s just a couple inches left and right but then they could see on the monitor, they could see how the kid was completely visible just by moving my head slightly back and forth.

Moving it back and forth, the blind spot of the A-pillar got completely erased and the jury was able to see, “Oh, look, if the driver simply followed the rules that he was told to—which is constantly keep your head moving slightly back and forth—he would have been able to see the kid and slowed down and not have the accident.”

Virtual reality was a perfect example to demonstrate along with laser scanning and the end result was the jury understood and believed and found in favor of the family.

Stewart Walker: Wow. That’s very impressive and who would have known what was lying underneath that accident and what the analysis would have revealed. That’s very impressive. And, indeed, your website is dramatic in many ways. I was struck by a headline there, “Over 4,000 cases served. Over 20 years of 100% admissibility. More than $1 billion in verdicts and settlements won.”

Well, I think listeners would like to know the meaning there of the word “admissibility.” But my question is, these are big numbers, your firm has generated astonishing success, you must be very proud of these accomplishments but do you think you’ve got further to go?

Jason Fries: I definitely think there’s further to go. And while I’m very proud of our accomplishments, we also realize there’s more to learn and there’s more to do. And while the amount of money that we have helped our clients earn in front of a jury or through settlement is impressive, the cases that stick with me the most and that I feel the most proud of are when we are able to use our technology and use our work to convince a jury of the innocence of somebody who’s being accused of a heinous crime.

I will say that’s my biggest accomplishment is not the money but there are people today who are walking, spending time with their family this holiday, spending time with their children, living a good life because of the amazing work that my team has done to prove their innocence and that will always be the thing that sticks with me the most.

But I can tell you another great thing about having such a fantastic team is the things they teach me over the years, and I still learn from them, keeps growing. And we are all very dedicated to find the next tool, going to find the next method to increase our work. And that’s really, really exciting and really humbling because that’s what keeps me going and that’s what gets me excited.

Stewart Walker: Yes, indeed. Now, going back a little, your website also reports that you were first to introduce laser scan-based animation admitted into United States’ Court System, first to introduce laser scan-based animation into the Superior Court of Hawaii and Santa Clara Superior Court, first to theorize use of laser scanning technology for forensic purposes.

Now, these achievements sound daunting to me, persuading stakeholders to allow relatively unknown technology to play a lead role in legal proceedings that maybe are not renowned for their high-tech prowess.

How hard was that and did several years pass from these first cases until laser scanning became a readily accepted form of evidence or at least the animations derived from it became a readily accepted form of evidence?

Jason Fries: Well, you bring up a good point. Courts by design are not meant to be the – literally the judge and jury of new technology and for obvious reasons.

You don’t want a court – somebody comes in and say, “Hey, we have this new technology that proves the guilt or innocence of somebody” and then find out five years later, 10 years later that technology or that science was wrong or flawed. Courts don’t want to be on the bleeding edge; they want to use science and technology that the scientific community has agreed is accurate.

So, that’s a challenge in the beginning. So, it was a huge challenge for us to get laser scanning admitted into court in Hawaii. The objection to it was strong and the court – no court wants to be the first court that admits something and judges, they’re not scientists, they’re not engineers, they are reluctant to be the first.

So, the amount of work that it took to get that first one admitted was very daunting. It took us six months working with Cyra to get them to help us prove to the courts that this technology is accurate.

And that took a complete team of engineers to work with us, it took us working with the lawyers, finding a way to convince a judge – and we can’t use scientific terminology and scientific words that a judge doesn’t understand, we had to use words in a language that they can easily digest.

And I will say, being a science teacher was a great benefit because as a teacher it was my job to teach science to people who don’t understand the science.

So, my experience of teaching somebody something they don’t know was also invaluable. But I want to give immense credit to my brother and my mentor at the time, his vision and his doggedness to take on the task because at the time it was his responsibility in that case to go in front of the judge and convince them and he did a fantastic job.

We honestly thought we had a 50/50 chance that the judge was going to accept it, but luckily the judge did accept it. And once that door was open, the second time in Santa Clara we were able to point to the decision of the judge in Hawaii which helped. And then once Santa Clara did it, it created a precedent to this day where now it’s readily accepted and no one disagrees.

Every judge that I’ve ever been in front of in the last 10 years has heard of laser scanning or if they haven’t is – real quickly looks it up and goes “There’s no argument here, it’s been proven to be accurate.” And so, that first time was daunting.

As for animation, getting animation admitted also very daunting because judges were concerned that jurors would watch an animation and think it was so cool and so amazing that they would just believe it to be fact. And judges were very concerned that the jury wouldn’t be able to look at it unbiasedly and view it as just one piece of evidence.

And so, the constraints that judges would put on us back in the 90’s were pretty extreme. For example, we were not allowed to have shadows in our animations because it made it look – the judges felt it made it look too real. Our cars couldn’t look like cars. For example, if we had a case where it was a 1990 Honda Civic, we had the technology to make a 3D model of a Honda Civic but they would tell us that we had to use very generic looking vehicles, that we couldn’t use textures, that our trees couldn’t look too real, nothing could look real.

It reminds me – this might date some of the people watching this, but there’s a great MTV music video done by Sting and the name of band eludes me, “Money Nothing and Your Chicks for Free” and there’s a video of guys walking around working in a warehouse. And it was very cool at the time but if you watch it today you’d realize it’s nothing but a bunch of blocks and no textures and no arms are moving, no legs are moving and that’s kind of the world we were stuck in at the time.

But as the technology got on and as jurors and judges got more comfortable with it, it opened up the lane and we’re now starting to allow to add shadows, we can start to make trees look like trees and now we can make it look as real as we want and the judge will allow it in.

I remember one case we did where the judge, we showed an animation of how a cyclist got ran over by a dump truck and we showed the video to the judge and the judge said to everybody, “I’m confused. Where’s the security camera located? Why is this the first time I’m watching this accident from this new security camera? Does the other side have this video camera?”

And we had to inform the judge that it wasn’t a video of the accident, it was a computer animation of the accident. And we had to convince her that it was actually an animation and not video. So, that’s the level that we are today but it took a long time to get here.

Stewart Walker: Yes, indeed. Well, moving into a more specific area, I feel that we Americans have probably become inured to press descriptions of mass shootings. But at the same time we recognize that we own so many guns that some of them may be used for other than righteous purposes. Therefore, there will be gun-related crimes to be tried in court.

Is this a large part of your business? And I do believe that some of your highest profile work is in the officer-involved shooting space. Have you worked on a number of these nationally known, nationally focused cases?

Jason Fries: Yes. Officer-involved shootings over the years, I would say over the last 10 years have become a larger part of our work. While one of our most famous cases that we used laser scanning for and ballistic trajectory analysis for was done in 2001, I believe, or 2002, and laser scanning allowed us to reverse engineer the entire shooting and was able to successfully convince a jury and put the person who shot and killed a police officer, he’s currently on death row.

So, while officer-involved shooting was something we did very early on in our work, it was few and far between. Now I would sit there and say it’s become a much larger part of our work.

Nationally cases that we’ve worked on, we’ve worked on the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, we currently are working on the El Paso Wal-Mart case, we’ve worked on the Jason Van Dyke shooting in Chicago, the Suge Knight shooting in LA.

I would sit there and say at any given time we probably have four officer-involved shootings—or shootings of any kind, they’re not all officer-involved shootings—in our office at any – on any given month. It’s imperative that you use laser scanning to reconstruct those shootings. Without it, it would be nearly impossible.

Stewart Walker: Yes. And there’s also a not entirely related area that’s in the press about the use of force by officers. Have you been involved in that in any way?

Jason Fries: Yes. In fact, you and I were supposed to have this conversation a little while ago and the reason why we had to postpone was because I was in trial for a triple homicide case followed by another trial in New York involving a use of force by a police officer.

And so, use of force is a big area. One of the challenges is the community that we live in, rightfully so, is now more aware of officer-involved shootings, they’re more aware of arrests or attempted arrests that use of force is applied.

And the community, rightfully so, wants answers, wants to know that the officers who are here to serve and protect us are doing so righteously and doing so within the rules of the law.

So, that’s becoming a much larger portion of our work. Our slogan is “Seek & Illustrate the Truth” and that’s what the community wants.

Stewart Walker: Yes, indeed. Now, whereas gun crimes and traffic accidents spring to mind as the obvious areas where your team’s skills can be applied, on your website you quote an attorney saying, “We have used Jason Fries and his team twice to create medical videos depicting complex surgeries. The videos impressed both the jury and the defense attorneys.” Could you tell us a little bit more about your work in that area?

Jason Fries: Sure. That is probably the only area that we do where laser scanning is not applied. But again, one of the things that happens a lot of times is if we are dealing with an auto accident the reason why people are trying to find out who was at fault for an auto accident is because somebody got seriously injured or died. Auto accidents that nobody gets hurt, there’s no reason or us.

So, while we call it the macro-to-micro approach when often we are called to ask to try to figure out how this accident happened, we’re also asked to educate the audience on the medical results of this accident. And it’s, again, computer modeling and 3D animation is a perfect way as an educational tool.

In fact, what got me into computer animation in the first place was I felt it was the perfect way to teach science to my students. Often when you’re trying to teach biology, chemistry or physics, you’re trying to teach a theory that can’t be seen or it can’t be seen with the naked eye.

Computer modeling allows us to be creative, allows us to go down to the microscopic level and also allows us to go inside the body and say, “Look, this is how blood flow works, this is how your heart works, this is what your lungs do.”

And so, it was just a natural transition to educate the audience of a medical issue whether it’s caused by an accident, whether it’s caused by a surgery that went wrong or whether it’s caused, for example, of somebody having a heart attack. Why did this heart attack occur, what was the cause of it?

Computer animation is a perfect way for us to show the audience something they want and something they can see. There’s no other way to do it; you can’t take a video of a heart attack but you can make a computer animation with one.

Stewart Walker: Well, moving back a little to the more general as we bring this podcast to a close, I see that you worked in a case in Japan. How do you manage the additional challenges of a different language in a different legal system?

Jason Fries: Well, the Japan case was kind of interesting. It was a legal matter, in a sense, but it wasn’t a traditional case. Matter of fact, we’ve never done a case similar to that. What happened in that case is a gentleman had driven his car and the car had left the roadway on a winding road and slammed into a large boulder, for lack of better term, that was jettisoned out.

What they wanted to figure out was, did this person lose control of their vehicle and go off the road just by accident or did this person attempt to commit suicide and have the insurance go to his family? So, they wanted to figure out which one of these two things it was.

The way they wanted to figure out was, where on this boulder did this car hit? Because this huge rock that was, I don’t know, I can’t remember how big it was but it’s 10, 20 stories tall, they wanted to know where on this boulder that the car hit. There was no damage, there was no evidence on the boulder because the boulder was made out of granite and so the fact that the car hit it left no marks.

So, what we were able to do is go out there and laser scan the boulder, then we laser-scanned the front of the vehicle and got a damage profile of the vehicle and then had a profile of the boulder. And we were able to find through computer modeling where on the boulder this car had to hit to create the damage that was seen in the vehicle.

And we were able to figure out the exact location because the boulder left an imprint on the car and we just had to find where that imprint was on the boulder. And once we found it, we were able to calculate working with other engineers to state that that vehicle left the road at 80 miles an hour.

That let us know that this wasn’t an accident, that this person purposely sped up their vehicle as fast as they could and launched it as fast as they could and their end result was that this was actually a suicide and not an accident. It wasn’t really a legal issue, it was more of an insurance issue.

But that was a fascinating experience; luckily, the insurance company provided us with translators. The only thing that was unfortunate was due to how much time we had, we literally were flown into that area and did the scan and then were flown out. I did the work but it was actually my brother who got flown in and out. But I think he was there for less than 12 hours. So, no chance to actually enjoy Japan.

Stewart Walker: Well, I want to talk just very briefly about the business side. I know something about the geospatial services industry on the surveying and mapping side, but I don’t really know anything about the forensic side. Is it competitive? Is there just a handful of firms like yours or are there dozens? What’s the geography of the customers? Do you sometimes help the defense and sometimes the prosecution?

Jason Fries: Yes. I mean, I’ll answer the last question first. We work for whoever calls us up and asks us to help them find the truth. Because of that, we work pretty 50/50 between defense and plaintiff. On the criminal side we typically do work more for the defense than the prosecution—although we work for both—simply because often what will happen is district attorneys will typically use law enforcement to do their analysis.

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been hired to go against the FBI because one side is using the FBI and the other side doesn’t have anybody so they hire us.

On the competitive side there’s not a lot of companies out there who can do what we can do. There’s not a lot of competition. But at the same time, the environment, the world that we’re in, it’s a very small world. On the geo side or the engineering side, there are a lot more clients out there who need services of laser scanning for nonforensic purposes.

I would suspect for every 10 companies or 10 things that need laser scanning nonforensically, there’s probably one client who needs it forensically. So, the market, the pool that we swim in is not a large pool, But the companies who can do what we can do are very small.

But I will say when it comes to just laser scanning for forensic purposes, there’s a lot of competition for that. There are a lot of companies out there who laser scan for forensic purposes; they just don’t do the analysis. They’ll go, “Hey, look, you want us to go laser scan an intersection? We’ll go laser scan an intersection for you. You want us to go laser scan a car? We’ll go laser scan a car for you. Just don’t ask us to do anything with it.”

On that level there’s a lot of companies who do that. But when it comes to doing actual forensic, actual analysis to the level that we do, there’s not very many companies. And honestly, I don’t think there’s any company out there that is like us. I do feel right now we are one of one in what we provide; I could be wrong, I don’t know every company in the world. But I’ve never met another company that does what we do.

Stewart Walker: What about the future? And that really is a question on the technology side. How do you see things going? Are there things that you would like to have that haven’t been developed yet or are in the process of being developed?

Stewart Walker: When my brother and I used laser scan for the first time in the 90’s, we thought that this was going to be a big deal and we thought the moment word got out that laser scanning exists, companies would line up to buy the scanner right behind us. But oddly, it took 10 years before we saw another company do laser scan on a regular basis. It took 15 years before I think it became more common.

I do see on the technology side scanners becoming smaller, easier to use and more portable. I would be shocked if five, 10 years from now the scanners that are being used in our world and everybody else’s is the size of a cellphone. I really think that’s the direction it’s going to go just based on the technology I see.


The thing that I would really like to see that technically exists but it’s super expensive, it’s not very useful, but I think augmented reality instead of virtual reality, I think augmented reality is going to be the next great thing because I think that will literally allow – wouldn’t it be great if you could put on augmented glasses and all of a sudden as a lawyer or as a forensic expert or even as a jury member you now can put yourself at the scene and watch the accident happen and watch the shooting happen, watch anything happen and walk through the scene? That is the next exciting thing.

I honestly think that there’s a lot of challenges with virtual reality that augmented reality doesn’t have. For example, augmented reality would allow juries to go to the scene, sometimes courts, judges allow jurors to visit the scene. Now, imagine they visit the scene and then you put on augmented reality goggles on all 12 jurors and now augmented over the scene is the accident or the shooting or whatever the case may be and the jury can watch it like they were there.

That’s what I’m excited to see, it’s just not here yet, the technology is not there, the expense, everything else. And laser scanning, I think, will be a big part of that. That’s where I would like to see the world go.

Stewart Walker: Yes, well it’s reassuring for us all to know that the technology field that we occupy, laser scanning, is going to be more and more important in the future, not just in forensics but in many other areas.

Jason, I would like to thank you profusely for spending so much time with us and also for your contributions to the magazine. We hope we can have further podcasts with 3D Forensic professionals in the future.

I want to underline our gratitude to our sponsor, rapidlasso GmbH, the German software company founded by the late Dr. Martin Isenburg.

We hope you will join us for forthcoming podcasts. We’ve already done preparatory work and are expecting some guests whom we believe you will want to hear. Thank you for listening. Good day.

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This edition of the LIDAR Magazine Podcast is brought to you by rapidlasso. Our flagship product, the LAStools software suite is a collection of highly efficient, multicore command line tools to classify, tile, convert, filter, raster, triangulate, contour, clip, and polygonize lidar data. Visit rapidlasso.de for details.