Innovation That Matters

Crowdsourced phone camera footage maps conflicts


Forensic Architecture uses civilian video recordings to map conflicts by analyzing smoke plumes.

The UN requires accurate proof when investigating possible war crimes, but with different sides of a conflict providing contradicting evidence, and the unsafe nature of the environment, gaining genuine insight can be problematic. A team based at Goldsmith’s University in the UK are using amateur footage to investigate.


Forensic Architecture makes use of the increasingly prevalent smartphone footage on social media networks. By crowdsourcing several viewpoints around a given location on an accurately 3D rendered map, the team are able to determine where explosive devices were used, and of what calibre. Key resources are smoke plumes from explosions, which provide a unique shape at any moment, allowing the team to map them and identify the smoke at the exact moment from various viewpoints, providing a dossier of evidence to build up evidence against a war crime.

While Forensic Architecture’s method has been developed to validate war crime atrocities, the potential uses in other areas where satellite data are not available are numerous — forest fire sources could be located based on smoke plumes, and potential crowd crush scenarios may be spotted before they occur. How else could the technology be used?



Download PDF