Cobb Police seeks to buy aerial drone for car crash investigations

3D models from drones used for crash scene investigations

[Editor’s Note: The drone will primarily be used to create a 3D model of the crash site.]

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To better process crash scenes on the county’s roads, officials with the Cobb County Police Department want to buy a device that will give them a set of eyes in the sky.

Sam Heaton, the county’s director of public safety, is asking Cobb commissioners to allow the police department to advertise for and solicit sealed bids in order to buy an “unmanned aerial system” — a high-end flying drone.

The department has estimated that it would cost about $160,000 in order to purchase a “military-grade” model that would have precision capabilities through the use of global positioning satellites and geographic information services (GIS) mapping services. Among the uses that have been identified for the device, according to county documents, are capturing video of critical incidents, automated searches for missing persons, crowd control events, air sampling technology during airborne hazmat incidents, assessment of natural disasters and victim location and rescue in hard-to-reach areas.

Though such uses have been identified, Heaton said the new drone’s primary use will be for recreating a crash scene, going beyond photo and video and creating a three-dimensional model of the crash site, which he says takes about 20 minutes.

“We’re looking at savings in hours on manpower, and also not having to shut down roadways for quite as long and some other things, but that was a really big sale.”

The department already has two similar drones used in its traffic unit to perform crash investigations and crash reconstruction in cases of a serious injury or fatality wreck, said Sgt. J.D. Lorens, who says the current drones can work a crash scene in 10 minutes versus about two or three hours without such a device.

“Probably the biggest thing is we can get overhead pictures of the scene without impacting traffic, without having an officer in the road or without having to shut the road completely down, so it’s safer for the officer,” Lorens said. “It’s also very quick — we can launch the drone in about three or four minutes and have it up, and within 10 minutes, we can have pictures and video of the scene as it looks at the crash. And we’re not having to call the fire department out and get a ladder truck up and tie up a ladder truck and firefighters and only go up 50 feet — we can go up much higher than that and get an overall picture or video of the scene with the cars still in the roadway.”

Lorens said the department’s current drones are “quadcopters,” which have four rotors, and span about 2 feet across, a size that allows for the devices to be carried in the back of a police car.

He said that while the current drones are controlled by a joystick, the system being sought by the department would be controlled by a computer tablet.

“Really the driving factor on this is the private sector. Just about everyone in the private reconstruction business has some sort of platform that they can take overhead pictures with,” Lorens said. “This is basically the cutting edge of accident reconstruction in the private world, so honestly we want our guys to be professional and keep up with that.”


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