North Carolina May Use Drones to Map Auto Crash Scenes

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Thanks to the Wright Brothers’ famous maiden voyage, North Carolina is known as the First in Flight State. True to the motto, the Tarheel State (which is a totally different origin story!) continues to take the lead in drone innovation.

The state Department of Transportation released a feasibility study last week with a plan to use drones to create 3D models of auto crash scenes.

Released by the DOT’s Division of Aviation’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Program, the State Highway Patrol, and the NCDOT Photogrammetry Unit, the report states that “current methods of investigating collisions can be time consuming and require highway closures.”

During a recent training event in which a collision was simulated, a drone team reduced the time needed to perform an accurate reconstruction from 1 hour 51 minutes to just 25 minutes.

“Crews would be able to start clearing the scene of a collision more than an hour earlier, and that means traffic can start moving that much faster.  Drones also significantly reduce the risk posed to personnel involved, provide an aerial perspective of the scene, and are cheaper and easier to use than current technologies,” the report detailed.

The flight team mapped the “crash scene” with a DJI Mavic Pro, DJI Phantom 4 Pro and DJI Inspire 2 in autonomous and semiautonomous flight modes at 90-100 feet above ground level. Each flight captured between 60 and 81 pictures and three flights were completed in under 25 minutes. The team then processed the results using Agisoft PhotoScan software.

The report recommends that the State Highway Patrol “integrate UAS into its collision scene reconstruction units to help improve the safety and efficiency of our state’s roadway system and conduct additional research to examine how UAS compares to legacy methods during inclement weather and nighttime conditions.”

In April, NCDOT created a set of best practices for drone use in disaster analysis, search-and-rescue and other government responses. The final report was released after NCDOT’s Division of Aviation held a workshop with emergency management officials.

The workshop highlighted the Airspace Integration Table Top Exercise by North Carolina State University’s NextGen Air Transportation (NGAT) Consortium. The exercise integrated drone use into disaster response preparedness planning and was designed to “identify command and control requirements, provide potential users with situational experience with UAS, and provide test cases for evaluating policy and regulations related to UAS management at the state level.”


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