Ontario Reconstructionists Shift into High-Speed Laser Scanning

When their total stations began having end-of-life issues, the Major Collision Investigation Unit of York Regional Police in Ontario, Canada, started looking for a new approach that would take their work to the next level. “We’re learning a lot of new techniques and formulas, and to be quite honest, that line-diagram system of connect the dots just wasn’t working anymore,” says Sergeant Derek Cadieux, who was tasked with researching the options. 

Cadieux’s colleagues in the Forensic Identification Unit had transitioned to a Leica ScanStation P40 laser scanner years ago, but laser scanners weren’t considered practical for the Major Collision Investigation Unit. “Older scanners, even some of the current ones on the market now, don’t reflect off of black, shiny objects,” Cadieux explains. “Well, 20-plus percent of the cars out there are shiny and black. If we brought a scanner out and the car is black and we can’t collect that data, that’s a big issue.”

“We put it through the wringer. We tested the scanner at live scenes by using it in parallel with other tools. We also created mock scenes to test the limits of the equipment—indoor, outdoor testing in high-light, low-light conditions.

When Cadieux was introduced to the Leica RTC360 3D laser scanner, which was released in 2018, he discovered that the RTC360 is not only practical—even on black vehicles—but also preferred. Designed for maximum productivity, the scientifically accurate RTC360 is compact (120mm x 240mm x 230mm), light (5.35 kg w/o batteries) and highly automated. It’s also the fastest scanner on the market, capturing everything in its line of sight at 2 million points per second and less than two minutes per scan—all while simultaneously taking high-dynamic range (HDR) imagery. “The RTC360’s unbiased collection of scene evidence was a big advantage to us and our main priority,” Cadieux says. “The secondary selling feature was the reduction in scene-processing times.”

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    The Major Collision Investigation Unit Takes the RTC360 for a Test Drive

    To ensure the RTC360 would satisfy their needs, Leica Geosystems’ Canada Account Manager Walter Bentley provided the unit with a one-week loaner. “We put it through the ringer,” Cadieux says. “We tested the scanner at live scenes by using it in parallel with conventional tools. We also created mock scenes to test the limits of the equipment-—indoor, outdoor testing in high-light, low-light situations.” 

    Cadieux made sure to verify the RTC360’s performance on black vehicles as well. With other scanners, the highly absorbent, highly reflective surfaces that are characteristic of black automotive finishes can produce incomplete point clouds. But the RTC360 has overcome that limitation with modulation technology, which emits the beam in two consecutive pulses—one strong and one weak. “Now with the RTC360, because of the way that the lasers work, we’re able to bring that evidence in,” Cadieux says. 

    Automation Makes the Highly Sophisticated RTC360 Very Simple to Use

    Since transitioning to the RTC360, Cadieux and the other reconstructionists have significantly improved their mapping efficiency. “We still mark out evidence and identify what’s going on with the vehicle, which takes time,” he says. “But physically collecting the roadway or mapping, we’ve decreased our time between 30 and 45 percent.”

    Unlike the total station, the scanner requires little setup and minimal human input. It used to take 15 minutes just setting up the total station and then hours plotting evidence piece by piece. “With the scanner, you put it on the tripod, you press [ON], and you’re good to go.” Cadieux says. “That’s it. Super easy.”

    “Physically collecting the roadway or mapping, we’ve decreased our time between 30 and 45 percent.”

    One of the most innovative features of the RTC360 is its automated registration. The registration process, in which individual scans are stitched together to create a unified point cloud, has been a choke point for users. But Leica’s visual inertial system (VIS) technology has nearly eliminated this workflow impediment. As the RTC360 is carried from station to station, the VIS tracks its position, interfaces with Cyclone FIELD 360 edge-computing software to pre-register the scans in real-time, and then sends the updated data, including HDR imagery, to the user’s tablet or other smart device. “Scanning is very easy,” Cadieux says, “especially with the tablet app that lets you see what you have and what you’ve missed.”

     When Cadieux gets back to the station, Cyclone REGISTER 360 desktop software has already placed the data onto real-world coordinates and finalized the registration. “Compared to some of the other scanner systems, the RTC360 really helps with that post-processing workflow because I’m not sitting there trying to find linkages and put everything together. When I get back to the office, all those linkages are already set and there are just maybe some minor adjustments that I’ve got to work through,” Cadieux says. “REGISTER 360 has been amazing.”

    To complete the workflow, the final product is uploaded into Map360. The software, which is part of Leica Geosystems’ Incident Mapping Suite (IMS), couples a powerful IntelliCAD engine with an intuitive interface allowing users to easily import, process, analyze and visualize data from any geospatial sensor to create clear, concise 2D courtroom-ready deliverables. 

    Scan Data Improves Accuracy of Reconstruction Analyses

    Even though the recons have been using Map360 for the past five years, the RTC360’s comprehensive, scientific data has significantly improved the accuracy of their analyses. “We’re getting away from that line diagram—where it starts, where it ends, what kind of gap it is,” Cadieux says. “We now have that information readily available with imagery, and I can get all my data sets from that.”

    When calculating yaw, for example, the rate of travel is dependent upon where the measurements are taken on the tire mark. “If it’s here to here, it’s one speed. If it’s here to there, it’s another,” Cadieux says. “And it’s a wide range.” The scanner mitigates those variables. “I’m no longer out there with a measuring tape trying to get a perfect arc with the total station. I set the RTC360 down; I press [SCAN]; and I go to my next area. It’s just so much easier for us,” he says. “And I just don’t have a line diagram from the total station. I have a proper arc, and I’m able to do a lot more with that information.” 

    The above image is a representation of the data collected from the theodolite comprised of 204 data points. Unlike the 3D laser scanner, the collected is limited to what was selected by the operator and it does not provide a fill 3D prospective of the evidence. This scene was forensically mapped in 1 hour and 2 minutes.

    The comprehensive information also simplifies damage profiles. “With the total station, we’d create a profile of the vehicle, including the damaged area along the rigid parts of the car,” he says. “Now we do six to eight scans, and we have a 3D diagram. And we can take that data and put those cars back together very easily to show, ‘Hey, this damage is from this car, and look, it matches up.’”

    Crown Counsel Benefits from Next-Level Deliverables

    The RTC360’s advanced work products enable improved comprehension of what actually took place at the scene. 

    In addition to 2D diagrams created in Map360, the Crown counsel now has access to a 360-degree, 3D photorealistic digital capture of the collision scene, which they can enter, move around, measure, markup and more. The data is delivered on a thumb drive containing Leica JetStream, a free no-installation viewer that runs on any PC—no network or Wi-Fi required. “They’re able to look at the images and do their own measurements, and it’s all very easy for them to do it—simply click and move,” he says. “They don’t need to have knowledge of the program at all.”

    If there’s a question about a tire mark or a gouge in the roadway, the answer is just a mouse-click away. “We’re able to bring it right up and zoom in and show what it’s from and really be able to explain the physics end of it or why something occurred or what that piece of evidence means,” Cadieux says. “With the total station, all we had was a line diagram. Now we’re actually able to show the whole thing.”

    These 3D point cloud images collected by the Leica RTC360 3D laser scanner are composed of millions of data points collected accurately within millimeters. These data points can be individually selected for highly accurate measurement. Both images above are captured from the same scene but rotated to allow for a different 3-dimensional view. This scene was scanned and the forensic data was collected in 26 minutes.

    Because the RTC360 simultaneously captures panoramic imagery while scanning, Cadieux can readily provide requested photographs. “I can open up that image and zoom in or have that HDR contrast—to show, for example, damage underneath the car—to get rid of the shadows. It’s all available to us when we’re sitting there in court instead of me fumbling through photographs from our forensic officers or trying to find a comparison, ‘Hey, this gouge mark from this line diagram is this picture,’” Cadieux says. “It just makes it so much easier.”

    The High-Performance RTC360 Makes Forensic Mapping Simple

    Even though the Leica RTC360 represents a significant leap in technology from the total station they’d been using for decades, it’s been a welcome change. “It’s had amazing support from everybody,” Cadieux says. 

    “The RTC360 has been a godsend on every scene. It’s easier to use. It’s quicker for us. It collects a lot more data, and there’s no questions about the validity of the data that we get. The RTC360 makes our job so much easier.”

    To explore time-saving collision investigation and reconstruction solutions for your agency, please contact us.

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