Using Virtual Reality to Help Prevent Crime
SWR TV report on research at MAXLab Freiburg
To prevent crime, you need to know how criminals think. In a large-scale study at MAXLab Freiburg, researchers are comparing the behavior of law-abiding residents with that of convicted criminals. A virtual reality (VR) scenario is used to gain insight into how burglars think and act, so that the findings can ultimately find their way into appropriate countermeasures. A film crew looked over the researchers' shoulders while they worked.
The Virtual Burglary project draws on the “expertise” of 60 convicted burglars at the Bruchsal correctional facility. In an immersive virtual reality simulation, the test persons explore a residential area as if they were going to commit a break-in. A conventional gamepad allows them to walk through a 3-D neighborhood while checking out entrances to houses and looking through windows. In addition, the study examines how street lighting and everyday noises affect the subjects' risk perception and actions. “The eye-tracking data and movement patterns of the study participants help us analyze whether and how well different deterrence measures work,” says VR expert Peter Wozniak.
Until now, researchers have known a lot about crime but little about criminal behavior, “because most crimes go unobserved,” according to Jean-Louis van Gelder, director at the Freiburg-based research institute. “The MAXLab is the first stand-alone research lab to conduct this type of criminological research using virtual reality,” van Gelder says. “We take an over-the-shoulder look at how burglars approach crimes in order to prevent them more effectively in the future.” The research results will be incorporated into police training and help develop new strategies against the obstruction of justice.