How Are Drones Being Used For Accident Investigation Tasks?

Drones save much time in accident investigations

Accident investigation is an essential part of improving safety and preventing future disasters. It is also used in legal proceedings to determine root cause and responsibility. Accident investigations can be very laborious and costly due to the time required to gather such detail. Drones change that.

There are many advantages to using drones as part of an accident investigation. Detailed data is captured in a short amount of time. This speed is essential. A UAV can spot missing or injured persons among a wreckage far more quickly from the sky. 3D models made from drone data speed up scene clearance, too.

Drones save much time in accident investigations

Why Are Drones Used For Accident Investigations?

Recent advances in drone technology make them ideal to use for accident investigation. Models such as the AceCore Neo are designed for harsh weather conditions, which increases the range at which they can be deployed. Higher winds and more extreme temperatures are no match for these drones!

In addition, developments in payloads helps drones become more useful for accident investigation. Thermal cameras can now build a much clearer picture, and help spot missing persons more easily. Visual spectrum (RGB) cameras are all high definition so that images and footage taken from an accident site can be recorded in minute detail. Even gas or radiation detectors can be fitted to drones for environmental impact analysis.

Drones are ideal for 3D mapping of a scene. This is vital for incidents which need to be cleared away quickly. For example, a large road collision on a major motorway will require intense analysis but that would take possibly weeks. A drone can create a 3D map of the incident in a short time, and the scene can be cleared quickly to restore normal traffic flow.

Come see us at The Emergency Services Show on 21st and 22nd September 2016. Call us on 01709 599 458 to arrange a meeting with our drone experts.
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Watch Out!

It should be noted that accident investigation using a drone isn’t just for anyone. You may have a Phantom 4 of your own, but watch out! People have got into trouble with the law for recording an accident site with a hobby drone.

A difficult legal situation, as a hobbyist capturing footage on-the-fly as it happens may then sell images to the media. That becomes a commercial venture – and a whole can of worms opens up about the legality of images. The video below was taken by a hobby pilot as an example.

In the UK Drone Pilots need something called a Permission for Aerial Work to use a drone for work or any commercial gain.

Improving Road Safety With Accident Investigation Drones

Road collisions are the number one go-to for accident investigation drones. There are several reasons for this:

  • Drones collect data more quickly, resulting in shorter road closure times.
  • Accident sites can be hazardous and a drone assessment can improve safety.
  • Survey equipment attached to drones can identify topographical features that may have contributed to the accident.
  • Drones improve emergency response times to accidents by being an ‘eye in the sky’ to help direct emergency crews through traffic to the incident.

The sheer number of road collisions and accidents every year make drones a good idea for combating huge labour costs. A standard investigation involves many people over a long time to determine the cause. A drone can take images and surveys of the site sometimes in minutes, and the information recorded for a central team.

Instead of many people required on-site, it could just be the drone pilot taking relevant footage, survey data, and images. This slashes budgets of police and investigation forces dramatically, while increasing the data captured overall.

Drones can also be used as part of accident response training. The Royal Canadian Police tested drone usage in a staged road collision. They employed photogrammetry techniques to map the incident, and used this as a basis for protocol development on crime scene investigation for road incidents.

The detail taken from the study demonstrates how useful UAVs can be in road accident investigation. Very precise measurements can be taken, such as the size and position of vehicles. This in turn can be interpreted by experts to work out the root cause of an accident. There is far less estimation required as high accuracy can be achieved with drone intervention.

Air Accident Investigations With UAVs

A couple of recent air accidents have employed the use of UAVs to help gather data. For example, the now-infamous MH370 flight investigation has used both aerial and underwater drones. Aerial drones were used to aid the search for debris. Underwater UAVs have been deployed to find wreckages.

Air collisions and accidents are particularly difficult to assess by manual processes. Debris can be scattered over a huge radius, often in rural or hazardous locations. A drone can be deployed over a wide range to collect information and pinpoint potential debris sites with ease.

Drones can find missing debris more easily in an air accident investigation

Helicopters are often used in air accident investigations, but these are costly and have limitations. For example, close mountain ranges are hazardous to fly in, while thick canopy prevents cameras from spotting debris. Helicopters are also very expensive and may not be available in more remote areas.

During the investigation of TransAsia 222 crash in Taiwan, the authorities deployed a drone to assist. The survey conducted by the drone took just 90 minutes. This easily outshines the cost and time a helicopter would have required for the same survey.

Marine Accident Investigation

Marine accidents often have a much wider impact than air or road collisions. This is because of the cargo often carried by the large tankers involved – such as oil.

A tanker which has run aground may spill thousands of tons of oil into the sea. The environmental impact of this is huge. However, drones can be deployed to assess the current situation, monitor tidal movement, and allow mitigation plans to be developed.

Drones can monitor ship wrecks and tides to improve outcomes

Scientists who want to learn from the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010 placed GPS ‘drifters’ in the Florida shallow coastline waters. A dye was released, and drones deployed to monitor the spread of the dye. Activities like this help environmental scientists to understand the impact of marine disasters and help to develop preventative measures.

Disaster Management And Response

In line with marine disasters such as oil spills, many other incidents have large environmental impact. During accident investigations disaster management is often ongoing while preventative measures will developed for improved future safety.

Drones assist in all three elements of disaster management and accident investigation. As we’ve already seen, they provide almost limitless valuable data in short periods of time immediately after an incident. This can be applied to all environmental disasters as well as industrial or civilian accidents.

The technology available to drones also makes them ideal for immediate response – including search and rescue operations for missing people. A drone equipped with thermal imaging can spot people in an earthquake zone. This prevents the need for sending dogs and people to search in dangerous areas.

Drones can assist dogs and people in search missions after disasters

UAVs can also be used in the assessment and prevention of future incidents. For example, the tragedy of Fukushima nuclear plant hit by a tsunami and earthquake was unprecedented. However, it has led to the development of unique technologies to help in future incidents.

A drone that flies itself, changes its own battery, and constantly monitors the interior structure of the damaged plant is one example. Placed in an area too hazardous for people, the drone feeds back constant data about the structural integrity. Any problems are highlighted immediately and a response can be planned, without danger to staff.

In the UK, a study for flood risk analysis using drones by Cranfield University happened to fall in the winter of 2015, which saw the worst flooding in decades. The data collected has enabled town planners, councils, and environmental scientists to assess the problems the UK faces in flood weather. The unprecedented levels of detailed data will allow future prevention plans to be put in place, such as the placement of new flood barriers.

The Future Of Drones In Accident Investigation

Drones are proving themselves to be vital tools in accident investigation. Whether responding to an environmental disaster or road collision, the huge data sets collected in short periods of time make them ideal for speeding up investigations and reducing costs.

If your organisation would like to know more about drones in accident investigation, disaster response and management, or search and rescue operations, please get in touch.

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