RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — Another North Carolina crime scene “star” is about to be created in Hollywood, but this one isn’t human.

Be sure to turn in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation on CBS this Thursday. It will feature the DeltaSphere 3D laser scanner developed by 3rdTech in Chapel Hill.

The DeltaSphere isn’t Emily Procter, the North Carolina native who stars on CSI: Miami, or East Carolina University graduate Sandra Bullock, the FBI agent in the forthcoming Miss Congeniality 2. But just as they help solve crimes, so does 3rdTech’s star product, which looks like a skinny briefcase mounted on a tripod and is linked to a laptop.

The DeltaSphere, which creates 3D renderings of everything from crime scenes to building architecture is brought in by the high-tech conscious CSI team to help solve a murder mystery. The folks at 3rdTech can’t talk about the show’s plot in any detail, but the CBS web site offers a clue:

“A woman’s suicide in the Vegas wilderness is linked through evidence to the murder of a suburban family,” CBS says. The episode is titled “Spark of Life”. (For more, go to .There is a link to a video preview of the episode.)

Barring last-minute edits, the DeltaSphere is shown in action and 3rdTech is even mentioned by name, Doug Schiff, vice president of marketing and business development, tells Local Tech Wire.

“We’re certainly excited about this, but we’ll see what happens,” says Schiff, who spent three days on the CSI set outside Los Angeles along with 3rdTech engineer Aron Helser to help the cast use the scanner. “Naturally, we’re interested in the sales leads generated out of this.”

Secret in the Blood Spatter?

3rdTech couldn’t buy the kind of publicity the highly rated CSI program can give it. While sworn to secrecy about the show’s details, Schiff says the CSI investigators can’t figure out what is going on until someone mentions a “new tool” that can help unravel the mystery.

CSI characters Catherine Willows and Nick Stokes (as portrayed by Marg Helgenberger and George Eads) use the 3rdTech creation to capture the crime scenes in minutely accurate detail. Words can’t adequately describe what the DeltaSphere does. (To see some images, go to: )

The device creates more than a 3D rendering. It also includes special software for analysis of blood spatter, including details such as trajectory.

Whether the blood spatter detail from the two death scenes helps unravel the Las Vegas mystery is something Schiff can’t discuss. But given Hollywood’s embrace of gore, what is your bet on the decisive evidence?

“Let’s just say,” Schiff says coyly, “they certainly used our product to analyze physical aspects of the crime scene.”

In an email sent to friends and colleagues, 3rdTech founder Nick England was ecstatic about the show.

“Besides being excellent public relations, the CSI project was great fun and realistically portrays the system’s use,” England wrote.

3rdTech, which is privately funded, has been seeking venture capital or other investors, Schiff says. A film clip from CSI just might take the firm’s elevator pitch to a new level.

Custom Software Augments Scanner

3rdTech licensed the core technology for the scanner from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill five years ago. Two years back at the CED InfoTech show, attendees saw first hand a graphic murder scene recreation at the 3rdTech booth.

“We’ve taken the technology far beyond what we licensed,” says Schiff, who is one of the company’s four employees and has been with England at 3rdTech almost from the start.

The first attempts to crack crime scene recreations were not successful because of the critical demands made by forensic investigators. 3rdTech developed a specific software called SceneVision to meet those requirements, and England said in his email the company has now sold more than 30 of the devices. (The scanner was also featured in the winter issue of Forensics magazine and the November issue of Police magazine.)

“Typically at a significant crime scene, investigators will spend hours and sometimes days taking measurements and photographs, drawing diagrams of the scene,” Schiff says. “It’s very slow work and tedious, and even if done carefully over a great deal of time you can’t guarantee measurements from every conceivable angle.

“Our device measures everything. It captures thousands of measurements per second and in addition acquires color digital photographs. We can combine those into an accurate 3D color model of the scene. Once that’s created, you can make all kinds of measurements and look at it from any perspective.”

The company’s move into the law enforcement market is actually what drew the CSI show staff’s attention.

“They saw our product at a forensics science conference and expressed interest in using it,” Schiff explains. “It basically took some time for the writers to work into a story. They notified us several months ago about a possible script.”

Schiff and Helser accompanied the scanner to Hollywood for the filming and actually controlled the device, although he said it appears the actors do in the show.

The taste of Hollywood was fun but also tiring, Schiff says. “We interacted with the cast. They shoot an episode in a little over a week of very long days. One day, we worked from noon to well past one in the morning. It was very interesting to watch the process, to say the least.”

After the shooting was over, a tired Schiff and Helser returned with a bit of Hollywood memorabilia.

Both “Willows” and “Stokes” autographed the scanner.

Rick Smith is managing editor of Local Tech Wire.

Note: This column has been updated to correct a reference to CSI characters.