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Police Drones Dramatically Shorten Wait Times At Crash Sites

A drone police use to reduce crash site assessment times (Tyler Lake, WTIU/WFIU News

If you’ve ever sat in line behind a traffic accident and wondered what was taking so long, Leutenant Robert Hainje of the Tippecanoe County Sherriff’s Department can tell you.

"When we have a serious bodily injury crash or a fatal crash, the investigation will close that road down for several hours," Hainje says. 

He says crash assessments take a lot of time.

"Our methods of using close range photogrammetry with our camera systems that we have in place with our sheriff’s department causes us to keep the road way closed down while we take the photographic evidence,” Hainje says.

That shutdown can be an inconvenience for drivers, but it can also be hazardous for the officers.

They say closing down roads for long periods of time means a greater chance of a driver plowing into cars waiting for the site to be cleared.

Darcy Bullock is the Director of the Joint Transportation Research Program at Purdue University. He says stopping traffic on roadways significantly increases the risk of another accident.

"Secondary crashes are a significant risk factor when you have the road closed," Bullock says. "If you can reduce road closure you are going to reduce that risk of secondary crashes by a factor of 24."

With the help of inexpensive unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, and some folks at Purdue University, Hainje says they can make crash site assessments safer, more accurate and faster.

"With the UAV technology again, we can shoot a scene, for example an 800-foot scene that we recently had, we shot that entire scene in a matter of 22 minutes," Hainje says.

With relatively little input from an emergency responder, the drones can create a grid to document the entire scene, down to the smallest details. 

After responders bring the drone down to earth, they take the footage to researchers at Purdue, who are able to process the pictures to create hyper-detailed 3-D maps of the crash site.

Purdue-Police-Drones-09-01-2018-256.00_01_45_27.Still002.jpg
A 3-D printing of data collected by a drone surveying a crash site. (Tyler Lake, WTIU/WFIU News)

The images are more accurate and provide far more detail than any previous crash site assessment technology.

Bullock says he’s happy with how well the system is performing and they are ready to scale up the technology across the state, and hopefully the nation.

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