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Unmanned Aircraft Reconstruct the Scene

NCJ Number
Techbeat Dated: July/August 2014 Pages: 14-16
Date Published
July 2014
3 pages
This article explains how the sheriff's office in Mesa County, Colorado, uses small unmanned aircraft (sUAS) coupled with modeling software to produce detailed 3D models that improve the cost-effectiveness of reconstructing crime and highway accident scenes.

The county flies two sUAS, a two-pound Draganflyer X4-ES unmanned helicopter and a larger fixed-wing craft called the Falcon UAV. After receiving a Federal Aviation Administration Certificate of Authorization (COA) to implement a wide-area use of small unmanned aircraft, the county began a pilot program with the Draganflyer in 2008. The Falcon was added in 2012. Both craft were donated to the pilot project by their manufacturers. The sUAS fly at a specified height above the ground and take a series of extensively overlapping photographs that are currently programmed manually, but with the potential for robotic control in the near future. Modeling software identifies "like" points from the pixels in the photos. The overlap allows a triangulation algorithm to produce detailed 3D models proven to be accurate within 3 centimeters. The county has had 6 years of experience with using sUSAS, during which the aircraft have been used in various search-and-rescue and tactical missions, in addition to crime scene reconstruction. The most frequent missions involve aerial mapping.

Date Published: July 1, 2014