LIDAR System in Self-Driving Cars May Help Detect Unmarked Graves


A self driving taxi cab. LIDAR is a technology used in self driving cars. / Photo by: Artistic Operations via Pixabay


Light Detection and Ranging is a surveying technology applied in self-driving cars to measure the distance to a target. It is also capable of locating unmarked graves in an area, according to a new study.

A professor at the University of Tennessee Knoxville studied how the self-driving technology helps autonomous vehicles in detecting its environment. By default, LIDAR emits pulses of infrared light and measures the amount time it takes for it to bounce back.

In the study, forensic anthropologist Professor Amy Mundorff contacted the Forensic Anthropology Center at UTK. Mundorff and co-researchers selected helicopters equipped with LIDAR. Since their experiment was about unmarked graves, the team requested for dead bodies and about 10 were provided.

“We appreciate the people who donate their remains. It’s important to recognize them because without them we couldn’t do this type of research,” Mundorff said, quoted Smithsonian.

The research team distributed the donated bodies in three different graves. The first one grave was marked as single, the second was a three-person grave, and the last one was a six-person grave. For the control, a marked grave without any bodies was used.

They flew using the choppers over the facility four times in a period of almost two years and discovered that LIDAR could detect changes in the location of the graves. The changes remained detectable even after the ground had settled and the graves covered with vegetation.

The researchers pointed out that the key factor in identifying potential graves was to determine changes in the ground over time. The detection capability of LIDAR could support the search for unmarked graves, and might even reduce the need to use destructive techniques to find one.

The proof-of-concept provided new insights into grave-finding and gave an alternative method to the standard of employing cadaver dogs.