Law enforcement employ high-tech rendering camera in plane crash investigation

Friday , July 28, 2017 - 5:15 AM

ANNA BURLESON, Standard-Examiner Staff

Investigators will be able to view the entire scene of a recent fatal plane crash on Interstate 15 in extreme detail from any angle they want because of the high-tech equipment used to document the scene.

The FARO X330 uses lasers and a camera to construct any scene around it, resulting in a high-definition 3D map.

Sgt. Randall Akers, the accident investigation program manager for the Utah Highway Patrol, said the department bought seven of the scanners in 2014 and each cost about $40,000.

Akers said the machine takes multiple scans to document a typical crime scene and each scan takes between 4 and 12 minutes. 

“Like any laser measurement device it shoots out a beam and gets a return to measure distance,” he said. “It does it in 360 degrees — in a circle.”

Akers said the scanner is particularly useful when it comes to plane crashes, because law enforcement responding to the scene aren’t experts in that field. Using the FARO, they can get a true to life 3D rendering of everything — from cars on the side of the road to miniature pieces of debris — and send it off to qualified investigators.

The FARO is about the size of an XBox console and is weather resistant. The data it collects is analyzed with a program called SCENE.

Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Todd Royce said the machines have been used at major crashes and some crime scenes, and Akers estimated they’re in use about once a week.

Akers said they use the FARO even at small crime scenes because, for instance, sometimes just using a single laser point to measure where a gun sits in a crime scene leaves crucial evidence behind.

“What if there happened to be some element to the handgun that didn’t get captured in a picture or something else?” he said. “Whatever that was, it’s gone.”

Akers said he was initially hoping the FARO would speed up crime scene analysis times to — in the case of the plane crash — speed up road opening times. He said that hasn’t turned out to be the case because of the multiple scans required and time it takes to set up scene markers for easier analysis, but they’re still incredibly useful.

The FARO scanner has other applications aside from accident reconstruction which include industrial inspections, reverse engineering and robot calibration, according to the FARO website.

Royce said the FARO renderings will be used by the highway patrol and the State Bureau of Investigation and handed off to the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board if requested. 

Contact education reporter Anna Burleson at aburleson@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnagatorB or like her on Facebook at Facebook.com/BurlesonReports.

Sign up for e-mail news updates.

×