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Transforming Accident Investigation With Drones

As the drone industry continues to soar, public safety agencies are reaping life-saving benefits from innovative UAV technology

We are still pretty far off from a RoboCop future. But that hasn’t stopped police from soliciting help from robots on the job. Well, the flying kind anyway. According to a 2017 report by Freedonia Group, drone spending by county and municipal governments will reach $80 million by 2025 — mostly for police, fire and rescue agencies. Drone use by emergency services is up 82% this year already.

For police agencies, drones help officers catch bad guys, rescue disaster victims, and reconstruct traffic accidents. In fact, agencies such as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) now recognize the value that drones and drone mapping software represent for accident investigations.

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits drones — and DroneDeploy — offer public safety agencies.

Police Departments around the US are now using drones to investigate accident scenes.

Collect Data Faster with Drones

Coupled with the latest drones, officers use mapping software from DroneDeploy to investigate accidents without wasting time or resources deploying manned helicopters. In many cases, a traffic accident scene scan takes less than 10 minutes with a drone.

An orthomosaic drone map of the scene created with DroneDeploy.

Recently, the Hartselle Police Department in Alabama demonstrated the effectiveness of DroneDeploy coupled with a DJI Mavic Pro.

Following a serious traffic accident, an FAA-certified officer used the drone, powered by DroneDeploy, to photograph almost 3 acres over the scene. Investigators were able to fly, capture and geo-tag each image, and preserve the entire scene in 3D, providing more in-depth insight into the accident’s cause and surrounding factors.

The best part? It required only a fraction of the time it would have taken a team of officers. “We were able to document the entire scene in just under 7 minutes of flight time,” said Sergeant Kelly Roberts of the Hartselle Police Department. Sergeant Roberts is part of a UAS working group comprised of police, fire, and other first responders in the Southeast U.S. working to integrate drones into the public safety sector.

“We think drones can help first responders act more effectively on the scene by capturing aerial information during natural disasters and accidents.”—Sergeant Kelly Roberts of the Hartselle Police Department

Increase Officer Safety in the Field

The same drone technology that keeps accident investigations short also keeps officers safe. Once an aerial scan is complete, investigators can review the data from their office, reducing the time needed to stop traffic, which in turn creates a safer experience for drivers and officers. Sergeant Roberts says this is a major benefit to public safety because anytime traffic is stopped the chances of another accident occurring go up.

Additionally, officers eliminate the need to travel back and forth to dangerous roadways to collect more data, such as road markings. One flight can yield all the data needed to wrap up an investigation.

An overhead photo collected at the scene with DroneDeploy and the DJI Mavic Pro.

Get a Birds-Eye-View of the Scene

Because drone flights cover an entire scene at once, data points are rarely missed as they might be in a typical “walk-around” investigation. “Having an aerial perspective makes a big difference,” said Sergeant Roberts.

In addition, users can generate real-time maps on iOS devices as the drone flies with Live Map — all without an internet connection. DroneDeploy eliminates the need to upload and process drone imagery, allowing users faster access to data, resulting in quicker decision-making in the field.

Reconstruct Imagery and Markup Maps

Markup maps with annotations and take measurements with DroneDeploy.

Once imagery is captured from the scene, it’s processed into high-resolution maps and 3D models for further inspection.

Using DroneDeploy, you can then mark-up the scene with notes, measurements, and annotations.

“The ability to take measurements in the software is a big benefit,” said Sergeant Roberts. “It generates comparable results to our officer’s existing methods.” And because DroneDeploy captures the entire scene in 3D, investigators can permanently archive the digital reconstruction. It’s also easy to share maps and 3D models with collaborators back in the office because DroneDeploy is cloud-based.

For now, Sergeant Roberts says that the drone program is a backup traditional evidentiary collection after an accident takes place. But he expects that to change down the line. “The hope is that one day we can roll out a complete UAS workflow and replace our existing methods.”

Where to Learn More

See how RTI Forensics uses drone maps and models help investigate catastrophic failures in this post.

New to DroneDeploy? Read our top 10 tips for making your first map.

Ready to add drones into your workflow? Read our free guide to integrating drones into your company here.

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.



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DroneDeploy is the leading cloud software platform for commercial drones.