The PS20 scans a crash scene

How the Right Tools Can Expedite Crash Investigations

Oct. 25, 2013 – Leica Geosystems’ first production laser scanner took 18 minutes to complete a single scan, and that was only a 40-degree by 40-degree window. The operator was forced to move the system repeatedly and do multiple scans, which took excessive amounts time.  It is always entertaining to see the reaction on officers’ faces when they learn that at one point in time our scanner worked in such a small window and at such a slow pace. Thankfully, a lot has changed since then.

The recently debuted Leica ScanStation PS20 can scan up to a million points per second in a 360-degree by 270-degree window in less than three minutes. This time saving advancement is crucial when it comes to scanning a vehicle crash with fatalities on the side of a major city artery. The speed of the PS20, combined with a rolling tripod base, allows an agency’s operator to quickly scan the vehicles involved in the accident and reopen the roadway.

NOTE: The RTC360, released in 2018, scans at a blazing fast 2 million points per second and captures full HDR imagery. Learn more here.

Fast, Accurate Data CollectionThe PS20 scans a crash scene

During that same demonstration, a Leica PSG rep competed against the agency’s best forensic mapping team. They were using a robotic total station.  It was an unfair disadvantage. The goal was to map a two-car “mock” crash and produce a court accepted document in an expedient manner. The competition was on. Keep in mind that when robotic total stations first entered the market in the 1990s, they were such an improvement, allowing surveyors to reduce their crews to just two people. However, the Leica ScanStation PS20 has yet again revolutionized efficiency and accuracy so that only one person is required to operate the system and scan an entire scene.

With the PS20, the Leica PSG rep was able to set up, scan, and move to the next scan position in an average of  seven minutes. It was also helpful in recording the location of evidence by scanning past 700 feet per setup. The competition never moved their robotic total station from the original point. Only the officer running the prism pole “rod” moved up and down the road, collecting one point at a time.

The PSG rep finished mapping the scene in just under an hour and had already packed the scanning gear into the rental car before the two-man forensic mapping team finished. Everyone went back to the police station to continue the process of creating a court acceptable diagram.

Rapid, Effective Crash Scene Mapping

Since nothing foreign should be introduced into a crime or crash scene, and it should be left exactly the way it was found, the PSG rep did not set any targets on the scene. Using the cloud to cloud registration routine in Leica Cyclone software, the PSG rep had all the scans registered in just five minutes. He then moved on to create a TruView of the scene. Leica TruView is a free presentation tool that is used daily throughout the world in a variety of ways, both in and out of the courtroom. It is a very easy way to share data from a crime or crash scene with judges, jurors, and district attorneys so they can see the evidence firsthand, even long after the scene has been processed and cleaned up.

The PSG rep’s total time for task completion, from start to finish, came in at an hour and a half. He had collected over 40 million points of data and produced a court acceptable diagram.

Unfortunately the robotic team was having difficulty with their crime scene mapping software. The third party software had issued a new update, and it no longer supported their robot. Several days later, the agency finally got their robot talking to their software and printed out a 2D-diagram based on the 179 points they collected.

Indisputable Evidence

To compare the results, the agency imported their line drawing into our Cyclone software and superimposed it onto the point cloud data of the crash scene that I had collected. They were impressed by how the data matched up, and they even caught a mistake in coding that had been entered in the field by their officers. They subsequently began working to secure a grant in the pursuit of purchasing a system next year.

Technology advances have streamlined crash investigations, making it much easier to collect the data needed to process the scene. With the right tools, agencies can work faster and smarter to produce more accurate results in less time.

Contact us for a demonstration of how the latest tools can work for you.

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