NTSB Using 3D Technology at Accident Scenes

Laser scanning can accurately depict a scene in three dimensions, Joseph Kolly, director of the agency’s Office of Research and Engineering, reported Jan. 1 in a post on the NTSB blog.

NTSB investigators are now using laser scanners to visualize an accident scene in three dimensions, according to a Jan. 1 blog post by Joseph Kolly, director of the agency’s Office of Research and Engineering. He writes this is "only the latest example of a new technology being used by NTSB accident investigators. Laser scanning brings virtual reality into our investigations. Whereas 'old-fashioned' photography can accurately depict an accident scene or vehicle in two dimensions, laser scanning can accurately depict that same scene in three dimensions."

The investigators station a laser scene scanner on a tripod, allowing it to rotate 360 degrees. Its beam extends about 300 feet. The scanner creates a 3D view of the surroundings by keeping track of its position, its orientation, and measuring the time required for the laser beam to reflect off objects.

"To completely capture scenes, NTSB engineers use special targets and place the scanner in various positions of a scene to capture multiple scans. NTSB engineers then stitch together the multiple scans to create a complete three-dimensional representation of a vehicle or accident scene, such as long sections of highway or railway. NTSB engineers can precisely measure tire skid marks, deformations in damaged vehicles, and other important features from accidents," Kolly explained.

He writes that the data can be used to create full-color images and computer simulations, with which investigators can observe a scene from any available vantage point and move through it by moving the camera through the environment. In this way, they can see what the operator of a vehicle saw before or during an accident, according to Kolly.

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