3-in-1 MultiStation Solves Problem of Aging Equipment

When the Vehicular Crimes Unit of the Arizona Department of Public Safety needed to replace its aging Global Positioning System (GPS) and robotic total station units, they chose a new technology that not only provided the GPS and total station capabilities they needed but also the 3D laser scanning ability they wanted: The Leica Nova MultiStation from Leica Geosystems.

Because the Leica Nova MultiStation was the first of its kind, Sgt. Thomas Simon, of the Vehicular Crimes Unit, admits he had concerns while spearheading the unit’s research. “I was a little apprehensive initially, thinking that maybe it wouldn’t work that well, maybe there was a lot of hype surrounding it, and maybe there were workarounds the demonstrators were doing that we weren’t privy to or paying attention to,” he said. “But the promises that were made were delivered.”

Benefits of a 3-in-1 MultiStation

Convenience: The convenience of three sensors in a single instrument increases the Vehicular Crimes Unit’s efficiency from the moment of deployment. Simon explained: “When we get a call, we’re not bringing out all of the equipment that we may need. When we get to a scene, we’re not having to set up and take down multiple pieces of equipment. With the MultiStation, we have all of those capabilities in one unit, and it’s that convenience that saves a lot of time for us.”

Cost-Savings: The 3-in-1 MultiStation is significantly more cost-effective than purchasing individual GPS, robotic total station and 3D scanner units. These cost-savings enabled the Vehicular Crimes Unit—which provides mapping support to its sister unit, the Special Investigations Unit of the Major Crimes District, as well as smaller agencies across the state—to purchase two units to equip both of its investigative squads. “For a government agency, it’s actually a cost savings to have all of those pieces of technology available conveniently and less expensively,” Simon said. “So it seemed to be the most cost-effective way to solve the problem of aging equipment.”

Consistency: The MultiStation provides consistency when uniting data and minimizes legal challenges. Simon explained: “Let’s say you had a portion of a scene that was obscured by a bridge, and you had to switch from GPS to a robotic total station or a scanner, and now you’re trying to combine scenes. Yes, these instruments are inherently very accurate, but for our purposes, when you’re talking about forensic mapping, every time you alter the parameters of anything you do, it raises legal challenges in court.”
With the MultiStation, everything is contained in one unit. “Whether you’re measuring with the laser scanner or with GPS or the robotic total station or just measuring line-of-sight, it’s all stored on the SD card,” Simon said, “and you’re able to download that into one piece of software and create the image from that point cloud. So that was something that was very appealing to our unit.”

Ease of Use: Transitioning to the MultiStation was easier than anticipated. “It was far more simple to use and operate than what we thought,” Simon said. “We’ve actually brought in a few new detectives, and they’ve been able to acclimate to it immediately.”
“The Windows-based drop-down menus are very intuitive and simple to use,” Simon said. Additionally, their Leica Geosystems’ trainer, Ted Miller, customized the menus to eliminate extraneous functions. “Ted helped us develop some shortcuts, actually a lot of shortcuts, and helped configure the unit directly to our needs,” Simon said. “It’s been a very good piece of equipment for us to grab onto.”

High Accuracy Data: Even though the Vehicular Crimes Unit’s preferred measurement technology for lengthy collision scenes is GPS and total stations, they also wanted laser scan capability. However, a standalone unit, Simon said, was more technology than they wanted. The MultiStation was the right solution.

While the point cloud is less dense than a standalone unit and the speed of data capture is slower, the MultiStation’s scanning capabilities, Simon said, exceeded his expectations. “We found that the smaller file, even though it’s less dense, is still just as measurable. When you learn how to scan with it properly—to adjust the scanner to scan just what you want, essentially outline what you want to scan—you come up with a much smaller point cloud. It’s just as detailed as a standalone unit … and just as measurable.”

And, unlike an independent laser scanner, which produces tens of gigabytes of point cloud data, the MultiStation delivers manageable file sizes. “It doesn’t crash our computers every time we try to download it,” he said.

“We can be measuring with GPS and doing a 3D laser scan, and once the laser scan is done, we can be measuring with the robotic total station and the GPS at the same time.”

Simultaneous Use: One of the primary reasons Simon and his fellow investigators were interested in the MultiStation was the ability to map with multiple sensors simultaneously. “When we first saw the demonstration, that’s where our minds took us,” Simon said. “We all looked at it, and we started conjuring up ways to do this.”

Simon explained: “We can be measuring with GPS and doing a 3D laser scan, and once the laser scan is done, we can be measuring with the robotic total station and the GPS at the same time. So we can actually have multiple people measuring with one piece of equipment, which we have done. We do that at our shooting scenes quite frequently.”

Simultaneous mapping not only increases overall efficiency but also furthers the department’s traffic incident management goals. “Even at a collision scene, you could have one person measuring all the roadway evidence with GPS, and you could have a second person with a prism measuring all the vehicles and remaining evidence robotically. And if that’s a way to reduce the amount of time that law enforcement’s footprint is blocking a freeway,” Simon said, “then it’s good.”

Promises Delivered

The Leica Nova MultiStation has lived up to—and exceeded—Simon’s expectations. “Everybody really enjoys working with it,” he said. “Nobody complains about things more than cops, and we have not had a single complaint. It turned out to be a really great purchase for us.”

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