Nov. 5, 2015 – Crime and crash scene investigators know only too well that life is unpredictable. Fortunately, an investment in the right 3D laser scanning technology can provide an invaluable safeguard against the unexpected. Craig Fries, founder and CEO of California-based Precision Simulations Inc., was reminded of this fact, not once but twice, through separate incidents that recently occurred less than two weeks apart.
A Close Encounter With Mother Nature
In the first incident, Fries was scanning a dangerous stretch of roadway. The temperature that day was a broiling 97 degrees with near-100 percent humidity. To escape the heat, he opted to control his Leica ScanStation wirelessly from the comfort of an air-conditioned car.
Suddenly, a torrential rainstorm hit. Fries had used the ScanStation in the rain many times before—the C10, as well as every ScanStation model, is built to withstand demanding environmental conditions and features enclosed optics and an IP54 rating against solid particle/liquid ingress. But this wasn’t just any rain. “This was sheets of water coming down sideways,” he said. “There were gale-force winds, thunder, and lightning hitting the ground. The roadway quickly flooded, and the drainage culverts around us were awash with mud, tree limbs and debris. I’d never seen anything like it in my life.”
Concerned for the safety of his scanner, Fries decided to retrieve it. “The winds were blowing so hard, I had use my feet to push the door open to get out of the car,” Fries said. He was drenched within seconds.
As Fries made his way toward the ScanStation, he saw a 6-inch roostertail of water flying off the scanner’s spinning waterproof lens. “I was shocked that it was still working,” he said. “It had been in that deluge for a good five minutes, just scanning away.”
Fries cleared the tripod legs of blown tree limbs, broke down the scanner and made his way back to the shelter of the car. “The scanner was just fine and no worse for the wear,” he said. After drying the scanner, Fries reviewed the data. “The rain had no impact on the quality of the data,” he said. “It was fine, too.”
While waiting for the storm to pass, Fries drove to an indoor facility that housed vehicles to be scanned for the same case. “The ScanStation operated flawlessly there,” Fries said. When the weather cleared, he returned to the roadway and finished the project. “I picked up right where I left off,” he said. “The rough weather had not impacted the scanner at all.”
The Oops Factor
It was a day like any other for one of Fries’ forensic investigators. He was about to scan a critical piece of evidence when, all of a sudden, the unthinkable happened: The Leica ScanStation PS40 plummeted 6 feet to the pavement!
With more than a hundred scans under his belt, Fries’ investigator is an experienced professional. He had simply forgotten to secure the scanner to its tripod. “He’s very good at what he does,” Fries said. “It’s just one of those things. We’d been scanning for days on end, day after day after day, and he made a simple mistake.”
The ScanStation’s impact with the ground resulted in a broken carrying handle and antenna as well as numerous scuffs (pictured below). “Fortunately, after powering the scanner back up and letting it reboot,” the investigator said, “it started up just fine.” He immediately performed a 360-degree scan, including high-dynamic-range photography, as well as a high-resolution scan of a vehicle.
Then he called his boss to confess. When Fries’ heard what had happened, his second reaction was to find out whether he could keep scanning. “In this particular case, there was no opportunity to say, ‘Oh bummer. Let’s go back to the office, and we’ll do it again next week,’” Fries said. “It had to be done then and there.”
Fries was not hopeful. “I thought that—with all the sophisticated electronics and motors in there—the drop had to knock something out of whack,” he said. He instructed his investigator to call the Leica Geosystems customer support team for immediate help.
Within minutes, he was on the phone with customer support, who advised him to perform two field tests to determine whether the scanner was still within its calibration threshold.
The first field test was to check for data gaps between the 0 degree and 360 degree angles at the edge of the scans. “I did not see any kind of seam or gap in the data,” the investigator said.
He then performed a two-face measurement to check both the horizontal and vertical angular accuracies. To do this, he placed a black-and-white target about 50 feet from the scanner. He selected the target through the video screen, added it to the list, and pressed the two-face measurement option, which is a feature unique to Leica ScanStations. The scanner scanned the target with the front side then rotated 180 degrees and scanned it on the back face. “After that was done, I clicked the info button, which gave me the delta of the two angles,” he said. “Leica verified that the measurements were within the recommended angular threshold.”
With both field tests passed, Fries gave his investigator the green light to finish the job. “Thank God we were using a Leica scanner and not something that is less sturdy,” Fries said. “Those things are going to happen from time to time. It was a very good test of the ScanStation’s ruggedness, but I hope we don’t ever test it again.”
The Value of Ruggedness
While Leica Geosystems cannot guarantee every ScanStation will survive the extreme conditions that Precision Simulations experienced, these real-life stories demonstrate that, when the unexpected happens, an investment in Leica Geosystems’ professional-grade technology is worth it. “We have never had a mechanical failure with our ScanStation,” Fries said. “It’s been a workhorse for us.”
To learn more about high-definition 3D laser scanning solutions for accident reconstruction and crime scene investigations, contact the Leica Geosystems Public Safety Group team.