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Scientific High-throughput and Unified Toolkit for Trace analysis by forensic Laboratories in Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SHUTTLE (Scientific High-throughput and Unified Toolkit for Trace analysis by forensic Laboratories in Europe)

Reporting period: 2018-05-01 to 2019-04-30

SHUTTLE, acronym for ‘Scientific High-throughput and Unified Toolkit for Trace analysis by forensic Laboratories in Europe’, is a project financed by the European Commission.
The SHUTTLE project intends to develop a toolkit which facilitates the microtraces analysis collected in crime scenes.
To do so, SHUTTLE intends to run a Pre-Commercial Procurement (PCP) action between forensic institutes across Europe to mitigate the technical and financial barriers and jointly carry out the procurement of the necessary Research and Development (R&D) activities to develop a machine+toolkit that will integrate different tape analysis tools to automate the routine part of the work of trace evidence examiners and, eventually, strengthen further judicial and police cooperation.
More precisely, the forensic institutes will organise and manage a call for tenders and select the companies that will perform the necessary R&D activities to develop the SHUTTLE toolkit. Thanks to the EC funding (7.4M€ for the subcontracted activities), the SHUTTLE project will contribute to strengthening the forensic collaboration across countries and institutions in Europe and possibly beyond. It also will catalyse innovation by allowing public authorities to invest cost effectively in innovation by sharing costs and lessons learnt.
The consortium members have defined the requirements for the SHUTTLE toolbox and has organised an Open Market Consultation (OMC) to connect with relevant companies to probe industry interest and be informed on the state-of-the-art. A Request for Information (RFI) has been published on the SHUTTLE public website. An Infoday was conducted on the 30th and 31st of January 2019 at Roissy – Pôle in France. Also, a webinar was organised on the 20th of March 2019.
The Terms of Reference will be published around September 2019 including all necessary information in order for the industry to understand the scope of the tender. Also the ToR will define in detail the Operational Validation process, the operational/technical requirements, the specifications, the technical and economic criteria that will be used to evaluate the tenders in order to extract the most economically advantageous ones on a best price-quality ratio. Received tenders will be reviewed and at least 4 qualified tenderers will be awarded a contract (January 2020) to produce a concept design, consisting of detailed design specifications of hardware and software. The providers of the most promising concept designs will be invited (November 2020) to build a prototype. Please note that the mentioned dates are according to current planning and might be adjusted due to circumstances.
The SHUTTLE toolkit will contain 4 tools. Each of these tools, as well as their fluent interaction, is required for optimal operation.
- Microscopic grade tape. Tapes have been used to recover microtraces for several decades. Their popularity is based on easy handling, low cost, and efficiency for many types of microtraces. A current disadvantage of tapes is that microscopic images acquired through tapes do not yield optimal image quality. Therefore, relevant microtraces are often transferred into glass slides to improve image quality. The tender will include the supply or development of a tape that allows imaging quality comparable to glass slides and facilitate analysis on surfaces much larger than can be achieved by standard glass slides.
- An automated microscope that will form the eyes of the SHUTTLE toolkit. It will acquire high quality images of microtraces that have been recovered using the developed tapes. The microscope will use a number of illumination modes for optimal discrimination and classification of microtraces. The microscope allows spectrometric colour analysis The classification will be aided by advanced polarisation analysis. The required spatial resolution is moderate, but the total field of view is large, while acquisition time must be acceptable. The SHUTTLE microscope will be operated using clear and intuive software. The software allows the definition of a standard analysis procedure. In addition, there is a feature for advanced users that allows data acquisition using non-standard parameters.
- Algorithms for image processing that will form the brain of the SHUTTLE toolkit. The algorithms will process the images acquired by the microscope and classify the different types of microtraces present in the tape. The results of the algorithms is a table that contains a number of parameter vectors for every microtrace, such as the coordinates on the tape, the colour, polarisation characteristics, morphology, and class (e.g. ‘blood’, ‘fibre’, ‘glass’, etc.). These algorithms can be executed via a GUI (graphical user interface). Via this GUI, users can execute the algorithms developed within the SHUTTLE project. In addition, the can develop and share additional algorithms and plug them into the the GUI. Such additional algorithms may serve to classify additional microtraces, or to make a better subclassification. As an example, the SHUTTLE toolkit might classify a microtrace as a ‘hair’, while additional algorithms can discriminate and classify ‘scalp hairs, ‘pubic hairs’, ‘body hair’, or even discriminate hairs from different animals.
- A database and search algorithms, that will form the memory of the SHUTTLE toolkit. This database will contain the data (raw, processed or both) acquired by the microscope and processed by the image processing algorithms. The database structure is made in such a way that the data acquired by the SHUTTLE toolkit can be related to data acquired by other techniques. To achieve this, it is possible to add into the database parts that contain data from e.g. FTIR, MSP, dye analysis, etc. The database contains a robust back-end and a user-friendly front-end. The front-end should have the same look and feel as (or even be integrated with) those for instrument and the image processing routines. The database will focus on experimental data and will (as is currently foreseen) not contain case information (such as case identifiers, names of suspects and victims) to prevent security and privacy issues. The search algorithms should allow searches for similar samples in the database. The search algorithms yield numbers or probabilities that can be used to calculate the evidential value of a result, e.g. using Bayesian statistics.
We aim to make the SHUTTLE toolkit powerful and versatile to such an extent, that it will become an international standard in forensic microtrace evidence examination. Therefore, the specifications will not only cover the technical aspects. Additional specifications will be set on privacy issues, training, user-friendliness, long-term sustainability, and integration with other techniques.