It's hard to see the uses of virtual reality beyond novelty video gaming right now, but if a new project by the Bavarian State criminal office is implemented as intended, a digital recreation of the Auschwitz concentration camp could help prosecute war criminals.
"I think within five to 10 years virtual reality will become a standard tool for police, not just in Germany but all over the world, because it's a way of making scenes of crimes accessible even years later," says digital imaging expert Ralf Breker, whose team created the virtual reality model.
In fact, the 3D model has already been used to convict at least one mass murderer. According to the BBC, "former SS guard Reinhold Hanning... was sentenced to five years in jail after he was found guilty of being an accessory to the murder of at least 170,000 people."
“It has often been the case that suspects say they worked at Auschwitz but didn’t really know what was going on,” said Jens Rommel, head of the federal office investigating Nazi war crimes. “Legally, the question is about intent: must a suspect have known that people were being taken to the gas chambers or shot? This model is a very good and very modern tool for the investigation because it can help answer that question.”
A user engaging with the program described the experience as "grim, oppressive, and horrific." A programmer felt similarly terrible about his creation: "When I got back to the hotel room each night after being at Auschwitz, I was shattered," said Breker.
The full program is not quite complete. “In two or three years, you’ll be able to enter the scene of every serious crime virtually,” said Breker.
[Photo: Getty Images]