csi rapid prototyping fingerprints




Lab 3D Prints Dead Man’s Finger to Help Police Unlock his Phone!


Professor Anil Jain from Michigan State University was in for a big surprise when police authorities arrived at his 3D printing and rapid prototyping lab. We assure you that the professor was not in trouble, the policemen only needed a rapid prototyping magic to solve a case.


Professor Jain teaches computer science at Michigan State University, specializing in facial recognition, tattoo matching, fingerprint scanning and biometric identifier programs- with a goal to making security systems almost impenetrable. However, the law enforcement wanted the exact opposite from the professor’s rapid prototyping and 3D printing facility. The police were looking to get a dead man’s phone unlocked with the help of his fingerprint.


Even though Professor Jain and Sunpreet Arora, his PhD student were rather hush hush about their project due to its very discreet, under investigation nature, they did provide a gist of how they accomplished the feat. In a murder case, the police believed that they would find leads on the murderer by checking the victim’s phone. However, they cannot get access to the said phone without the fingerprints or passcode of the now deceased user. Hence, the police, instead of approaching the phone company to help them access it, decided to try out a very different method. They assigned Jain’s lab to build a replica of the finger of the victim that too 3D printed. The recreated finger would help them unlock the phone.




Apparently, the victim was previously arrested and was alive in police custody. During that time, a scan was done to take his fingerprints. Now that he has been murdered, the police provided this scan data to the rapid prototyping lab. Using these scans, Sunpreet Arora prepared all ten 3D printed replica fingers.


The police informed the lab researchers that they did not know for sure which finger was used to lock and unlock the phone; even though they did believe it was the index finger or the thumb. Just to make sure nothing was missed out, the rapid prototyping lab created 3D printed replicas of all ten digits.


There is however, a catch. It is not enough to just print out a 3D finger to unlock a phone. Fingerprint readers that are used in phones today depend on small electrical circuits closing to function, i.e. they are capacitive. When the ridges of our fingers touch them, these circuits are connected and the image of the print is generated. Human body does conduct electricity well, and the touch of our fingers is enough to close the circuits. However, plastics used in rapid prototyping and 3D printing are not as conductive. Hence, the researchers got the 3D printed fingers coated in a very thin metallic particle layer so that they can conduct electricity like skin.


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Of course, the method is yet to attain foolproof status. The researchers are still in the process of improving the technology. They are yet to hand the 3D printed fingers over to the police who are in turn going to unlock the phone of the murder victim. However, the researchers are hopeful that once the fingers have been tested out in a few weeks, they will be ready for investigation.


The privacy and security of phones has been creating quite the stir in news and social media. The FBI and Apple had to do several rounds of the court in order to gain access to the San Bernardino shooter’s phone; which happened to be locked with a pass code by its deceased user. This case of rapid prototyping is a little different due to the fact that the law enforcement authorities did not collaborate with a phone company. The fact that the phone owner has died in fact, gets rid of some legal hurdles that would usually pop up- according to security, technology and legal researcher Bryan Choi.


According to the Fifth Amendment of the US constitution, there is protection against self incrimination. In this case, the fingerprints belong to the victim who is deceased, not the suspect. This is the reason why the victim is not at any risk of incrimination. If a situation arises that evidence of other criminal activities are found on the phone, there is no scope of trying the dead victim in court. However, things get a little more complicated and interesting when the question of using these technologies on living people is encountered. If this technology is a success, then the police would only need that person’s fingerprints and a simple court order. According to a Supreme Court ruling in 2013, the police does need a search warrant in order to look through a personal cell phone.


Even though the entire matter becomes debatable if the suspect or victim is alive, this particular case is going to be revolutionary. After all, this is going to be the first time that a deceased person’s 3D fingerprint is used for unlocking their own cell phone.




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