In today’s world, technology is evolving at lightning speed. We are being recorded all the time, and recording devices are becoming smaller, more lightweight, and extremely accurate. The agility of such devices allows an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or “drone,” to safely capture stunning high-quality images in a matter of minutes.

Drones are capable of providing us with a comprehensive, objective view of the scene of an accident. Cameras have been used to gather forensic evidence for decades. However, piecing together the scene of an accident one image at a time is a lengthy process. Furthermore, collecting accident scene data from ground level does not tell a complete story – aerial photography can provide invaluable insight into accident investigations. Modern drone technology allows investigators to reconstruct the scene of an accident down to the most minute detail.

Drones can be employed quickly, affordably, and safely. Aerial data gathered by drones can be used to record and create 3D reconstructions of the scene of a disaster or accident. Additionally, a drone can be employed from a safe distance from a potentially hazardous location. Similar to bomb-diffusing robots, drones can approach a dangerous situation while essentially erasing any potential risks to human life. Drones greatly reduce the amount of time law enforcement and investigators need to remain on the scene of a traffic accident, thereby mitigating the risk of on-site incidents.

This course will educate students on the ways in which drones can offer a streamlined solution to investigations while remaining affordable and safe.

Purpose and Goals

The purpose of this course is to explain the ways in which drones can be employed in accident reconstruction. Drones are currently being used in several professional settings as a form of scene reconstruction and non-invasive investigations. Archaeologists use drones as a non-invasive way of mapping ruins and ancient remains. Architecture and engineering firms use them to create 3D maps and models of construction projects. Law enforcement and insurance firms use them to recreate scenes of crimes and accidents. Having a bird’s-eye view of the scene of an accident can provide evidence and insight into what caused the accident to happen.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this course, the student will be able to:

  • Explain the process of obtaining a Part 107 FAA Drone Certification
  • Understand ways in which private investigators can safely collect photos and information to reconstruct the accident using drones.
  • Recall laws relating to privacy and public/private airspace
  • List the ways data collected from drones can be used in an investigation.
  • Identify the different types of drones and their purposes.
  • Describe the different ways drones can help keep workers safe during an investigation.
  • Conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the benefits of using drones.
  • Describe the various flight restrictions that apply to drones
  • Identify the visual flight rule (VFR) weather minimums when piloting a drone
  • Recognize potential flight hazards when piloting a drone

Portability, Navigation, and Ability

    1. Ease of transporting drones
    2. How is a drone controlled and navigated?
    3. Different types of drones and their capabilities
      1. Fixed-Wing
      2. Single Rotor
      3. Multi-Rotor
      4. Hybrid Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL)

Aerial Mapping

    1. Aerial mapping
    2. Land Surveying
    3. Accident reconstruction
    4. Drone photogrammetry is the process of taking multiple photographs of a structure or location and converting them into 3D models.

Considerations for Drone Use 

    1. Use by Insurance Companies
      1. Assessing property damage
      2. Monitoring natural disasters
      3. Hazard inspections
      4. Safety inspections
      5. Fire scene investigations
      6. Agricultural surveillance
      7. Fraud prevention
    2. Use as an investigative and law enforcement tool
      1. Vehicle accident investigation
      2. Aviation wreckage investigation
      3. Searches for missing persons
      4. Conducting investigations at difficult-to-reach sites
      5. Security overwatch
      6. Lifeguard and marine rescue
      7. Transportation of supplies or equipment

Drone Technology Used in Crime Scene Investigation

    1. RGB Cameras. A camera that collects visible light and converts it into an electrical signal.
    2. LiDAR/Terrestrial Laser Scanning. Light Detection and Ranging. This method measures the time it takes for a laser to bounce off objects on the ground and reflect back to the drone. This data can be used to recreate 3D representations of a scene.
    3. 3D Modelers.

Limitations of Drone Technologies

    1. The margin of measurable error
    2. Cost
    3. Fine imaging details – objects that a drone cannot see from an elevated position.
    4. Environmental restrictions and blind spots
    5. Nighttime and low-light environments

FAA Rules Governing Use of Drones

    1. Obtaining a drone pilot license
      1. Obtain an FAA Tracking Number (FTN)
      2. Complete the FAA Part 107 Drone Pilot Test (Unmanned Aircraft General – Small)
      3. Obtain a remote pilot certificate
      4. Keep your certification current every twenty-four (24) calendar months

Legal Drone Operations

    1. Register your drone and label it with its matching FTN
    2. Fly your drone at an altitude of 400 feet or below
    3. Keep your drone within your line of sight during operation
    4. Do not fly near airports or other aircraft
    5. Do not fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol
    6. Do not fly over 100 miles per hour

Safe Drone Operations

    1. Visual Flight Rules (VFR)
      1. Weather minimums
      2. Types of airspace
      3. Required flight visibility
      4. Cloud clearance
      5. “See and avoid”
    2. Rules and safe operating procedures for drones weighing 55 lbs. (including payload at the time of takeoff) or more.