Image matching algorithms for breech face marks and firing pins in a database of spent cartridge cases of firearms

Zeno J. Geradts, Jurrien Bijhold, Rob Hermsen, Fionn Murtagh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


On the market several systems exist for collecting spent ammunition data for forensic investigation. These databases store images of cartridge cases and the marks on them. Image matching is used to create hit lists that show which marks on a cartridge case are most similar to another cartridge case. The research in this paper is focused on the different methods of feature selection and pattern recognition that can be used for optimizing the results of image matching.The images are acquired by side light images for the breech face marks and by ring light for the firing pin impression. For these images a standard way of digitizing the images used. For the side light images and ring light images this means that the user has to position the cartridge case in the same position according to a protocol. The positioning is important for the sidelight, since the image that is obtained of a striation mark depends heavily on the angle of incidence of the light. In practice, it appears that the user positions the cartridge case with ±10° accuracy.We tested our algorithms using 49 cartridge cases of 19 different firearms, where the examiner determined that they were shot with the same firearm. For testing, these images were mixed with a database consisting of approximately 4900 images that were available from the Drugfire database of different calibers.In cases where the registration and the light conditions among those matching pairs was good, a simple computation of the standard deviation of the subtracted gray levels, delivered the best-matched images. For images that were rotated and shifted, we have implemented a 'brute force' way of registration. The images are translated and rotated until the minimum of the standard deviation of the difference is found. This method did not result in all relevant matches in the top position. This is caused by the effect that shadows and highlights are compared in intensity. Since the angle of incidence of the light will give a different intensity profile, this method is not optimal.For this reason a preprocessing of the images was required. It appeared that the third scale of the 'à trous' wavelet transform gives the best results in combination with brute force. Matching the contents of the images is less sensitive to the variation of the lighting.The problem with the brute force method is however that the time for calculation for 49 cartridge cases to compare between them, takes over 1 month of computing time on a Pentium II-computer with 333MHz. For this reason a faster approach is implemented: correlation in log polar coordinates. This gave similar results as the brute force calculation, however it was computed in 24h for a complete database with 4900 images.A fast pre-selection method based on signatures is carried out that is based on the Kanade Lucas Tomasi (KLT) equation. The positions of the points computed with this method are compared. In this way, 11 of the 49 images were in the top position in combination with the third scale of the à trous equation. It depends however on the light conditions and the prominence of the marks if correct matches are found in the top ranked position. All images were retrieved in the top 5% of the database. This method takes only a few minutes for the complete database if, and can be optimized for comparison in seconds if the location of points are stored in files.For further improvement, it is useful to have the refinement in which the user selects the areas that are relevant on the cartridge case for their marks. This is necessary if this cartridge case is damaged and other marks that are not from the firearm appear on it.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-106
Number of pages10
JournalForensic Science International
Issue number1
Early online date15 May 2001
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2001
Externally publishedYes


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