Autel EVO II Pro, Pix4D, and Aviation Accident Investigation

Recently, David Martel, Brady Reisch and I were called upon to assist in multiple investigations where debris was scattered over a large area, and investigators could not safely traverse the areas where high speed impacts may have spread evidence over large rocky, uneven areas. In this particular case, a EuroStar 350  aircraft may have experienced a cable wrap around the tail rotor and boom, potentially pulling the tail boom toward the nose of the aircraft, causing a high speed rotation of the hull prior to impact. Debris was spread over a relatively contained area, with some evidence unfound.

crash site investigation with drones

Per the FAA investigators;

“The helicopter was on its right side in mountainous densely forested desert terrain at an elevation of 6,741 ft mean sea level (MSL). The steel long line cable impacted the main rotor blades and was also entangled in the separated tail rotor. The tail rotor with one blade attached was 21 ft. from the main wreckage. Approximately 30 ft. of long line and one tail rotor blade were not located. The vertical stabilizer was 365 ft. from the main wreckage.”

With a missing tail rotor blade and the missing long line, unmanned aircraft were called in to provide a high resolution map of the rugged area/terrain, in hopes of locating the missing parts that may or may not aid in the crash investigation.

The terrain was difficult and unimproved, requiring four-wheel drive vehicles for access into the crash site. Due to rising terrain, we elected to launch/land the aircraft from the highest point relevant to the crash search area, which encompassed a total of approximately 70 acres.

Adding to the difficulty of finding missing parts was that the helicopter was partially covered in grey vinyl wrap, along with red and black vinyl wrap, having recently been wrapped for a trade show where the helicopter was displayed.

drones in crash site investigation

We arrived on scene armed with pre-loaded Google Earth overheads, and an idea of optimal locations to place seven Hoodman GCP discs, which would allow us to capture RTK points for accuracy, and Manual Tie Points once the images were loaded into Pix4D.  We pre-planned the flight for an extremely high ground sampling distance (GSD) average of .4cm per pixel. Due to the mountainous terrain, this GSD would vary from the top to the bottom of the site. We planned to capture the impact location at various GSD for best image evaluation, averaging as tight as .2cmppx. Some of these images would be discarded for the final output, and used only for purposes of investigation.

Although the overall GSD was greater than necessary, the goal is to be able to zoom in very deep on heavily covered areas with the ability to determine the difference between rocks and potential evidence, enabling investigators to view the overall scene via a 3.5 GB GeoTiff in Google Earth, and refer back to the Pix4DMapper project once rendered/assembled.

The same scene minus initial marker points.

Although working directly in Pix4D provides the best in-depth view of each individual photo, the Google Earth overlay/geotiff enables a reasonably deep examination.

Using two of the recently released Autel EVO II Pro aircraft, we planned the missions so that one aircraft would manage North/South corridors while the other captured East/West corridors.  Planning the mission in this manner allows for half the work time, while capturing the entire scene. This is the same method we used to capture the MGM festival grounds following the One October shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada. The primary difference is in the overall size, with the Pioche mission being nearly 70 acres, while the Las Vegas festival ground shooting area is under 20 acres in total.

Similar to the Las Vegas shooting scene, shadow distortion/scene corruption was a concern; flying two aircraft beginning at 11:00 a.m. and flying until 1:30 aided in avoiding issues with shadow.

Temporal and spatial offsets were employed to ensure that the EVO II Pro aircraft could not possibly collide, we set off at opposite sides of the area, at different points in time, with a few feet of vertical offset added in for an additional cushion of air between the EVO II. We programmed the missions to fly at a lower speed of 11 mph/16fps to ensure that the high GSD/low altitude images would be crisp and clean. It is possible to fly faster and complete the mission sooner, yet with the 3 hour travel time from Las Vegas to the crash site, we wanted to ensure everything was captured at its best possible resolution with no blur, streak, or otherwise challenged imagery. Overall, each aircraft emptied five batteries, with our batteries set to exchange notification at 30%.

Total mission running time was slightly over 2.5 hours per aircraft, with additional manual flight over the scene of impact requiring another 45 minutes of flight time to capture deep detail. We also captured imagery facing the telecommunications tower at the top of the mountain for line of sight reference, and images facing the last known landing area, again for visual reference to potential lines of sight.

crash site investigation with drones

By launching/landing from the highest point in the area to be mapped, we were able to avoid any signal loss across the heavily wooded area. To ensure VLOS was maintained at all times, FoxFury D3060’s were mounted and in strobing mode for both sets of missions (The FoxFury lighting kit is included with the Autel EVO II Pro and EVO II Dual Rugged Bundle kits).

Once an initial flight to check exposure/camera settings was performed, along with standard controllability checks and other pre-flight tasks, we sent the aircraft on their way.

Capturing over 6000 images, we checked image quality periodically to ensure consistency. Once the missions were complete, we drove to the site of impact to capture obliques of the specific area in order to create a more dense model/map of the actual impact site. We also manually flew a ravine running parallel to the point of impact to determine if any additional debris was found (we did find several small pieces of fuselage, tools assumed to be cast off at impact, and other debris.

The initial pointcloud took approximately 12 hours to render, generating a high-quality, highly dense initial cloud.

crash site investigation with drones

After laying in point controls, marking scale constraints as a check, and re-optimized the project in Pix4D, the second step was rendered to create the dense point cloud. We were stunned at the quality of the dense point cloud, given the large area.

The dense point cloud is ideal for purposes of measuring. Although this sort of site would typically benefit (visually) from texturing/placing the mesh, it was not necessary due to the high number of points and deep detail the combination of Pix4D and Autel EVO II Pro provided. This allowed us to select specific points where we believed points of evidence may be located, bringing up the high resolution images relevant to that area. Investigators were able to deep-dive into the area and locate small parts, none of which were relevant to better understanding the cause of the crash.

“The project generated 38,426,205 2D points and 13,712,897 3D points from a combination of nearly 7,000 images.”

crash site investigation with drones

Using this method of reviewing the site allows investigators to see more deeply, with ability to repeatedly examine areas, identify patterns from an overhead view, and safely search for additional evidence that may not be accessible by vehicle or foot. Literally every inch of the site may be gone over.

crash site investigation with drones

Further, using a variety of computer-aided search tools, investigators may plug in an application to search for specific color parameters. For example, much of the fuselage is red in color, allowing investigators to search for a specific range of red colors. Pieces of fuselage as small as 1” were discovered using this method. Bright white allowed for finding some items, while 0-16 level black allowed for finding other small objects such as stickers, toolbox, and oil cans.

Using a tool such as the DTResearch 301 to capture the RTK geolocation information, we also use the DTResearch ruggedized tablet as a localized pointcloud scan which may be tied into the Pix4Dmapper application. Capturing local scan data from a terrestrial perspective with GCP’s in the image allow for extremely deep detail in small environments. This is particularly valuable for construction sites or interior scans, along with uses for OIS, etc.

Primary Considerations When Capturing a Scene Twin

  • GSD.​ This is critical. There is a balance between altitude and propwash, with all necessary safety considerations.
    Vertical surfaces. In the event of an OIS where walls have been impacted, the ability to fly vertical surfaces and capture them with a consistent GSD will go a long way to creating a proper model. Shadow distortion.​ If the scene is very large, time will naturally fly by and so will the sun. In some conditions, it’s difficult to know the difference between burn marks and shadows. A bit of experience and experimentation will help manage this challenge.
  • Exposure.​ Checking exposure prior to the mission is very important, particularly if an application like Pix4Dreact isn’t available for rapid mapping to check the data on-site.
    Angle of sun/time of day​. Of course, accidents, incidents, crime, and other scenes happen when they happen. However, if the scene allows for capture in the midday hours, grab the opportunity and be grateful. This is specifically the reason that our team developed night-time CSI/Datacapture, now copied by several training organizations across the country over recent years.
  • Overcapture.​ Too much overlap is significantly preferable to undercapture. Ortho and modeling software love images.
  • Obliques. ​Capture obliques whenever possible. Regardless of intended use, capture the angular views of a scene. When possible, combine with ground-level terrestrial imaging. Sometimes this may be best accomplished by walking the scene perimeter with the UA, capturing as the aircraft is walked. We recommend removing props in these situations to ensure everyone’s safety.

What happens when these points are put aside?

This is a capture of a scene brought to us for “repair,” as the pilot didn’t know what he didn’t know. Although we were able to pull a bit of a scene, the overexposure, too-high altitude/low GSD, and lack of obliques made this scene significantly less valuable than it might have been.

page13image47662928

Not understanding the proper role or application of the UA in the capture process, the UA pilot created a scene that is difficult to accurately measure, lacking appropriate detail, and the overexposure creates difficulties laying in the mesh. While this scene is somewhat preserved as a twin, there is much detail missing where the equipment had the necessary specifications and components to capture a terrific twin. Pilot error cannot be fixed. Operating on the “FORD” principle, understanding that ​FO​cus, exposu​R​e, and ​D​istance (GSD) cannot be rectified/compensated for in post processing means it has to be captured properly the first time. The above scene can’t be properly brought to life due to gross pilot error.

“ALWAYS PUT THE AIRCRAFT OVER THE PRIMARY SCENE LOCATION TO CONFIRM EXPOSURE SETTINGS, KEEPING ISO AS LOW AS POSSIBLE. USE ISO 50-100 IN MOST OUTDOOR SCENARIOS TO OBTAIN THE BEST IMAGE. NEVER USE OVERSATURATED PHOTO SETTINGS OR LOG FORMATS FOR MAPPING.”

Ultimately, the primary responsibility is to go beyond a digital twin of the scene, but instead offer deep value to the investigator(s) which may enhance or accelerate their investigations. Regardless of whether it’s a crash scene, insurance capture, energy audit, or other mapping activity, understanding how to set up the mission, fly, process, and export the mission is paramount.

Capturing these sorts of scenes are not for the average run n’ gun 107 certificate holder. Although newer pilots may feel they are all things to all endeavors benefitting from UA, planning, strategy, and experience all play a role in ensuring qualified and quality captures occur. Pilots wanting to get into mapping should find themselves practicing with photogrammetry tools and flying the most challenging environments they can find in order to be best prepared for environmental, temporal, and spatial challenges that may accompany an accident scene. Discovery breeds experience when it’s cold and batteries expire faster, satellite challenges in an RTK or PPK environment, planning for overheated tablets/devices, managing long flight times on multi-battery missions, or when winds force a crabbing mission vs a head/tailwind mission. Learning to maintain GSD in wild terrain, or conducting operations amidst outside forces that influence the success or failure of a mission only comes through practice over time. Having a solid, tried and true risk mitigation/SMS program is crucial to success.

We were pleased to close out this highly successful mission, and be capable of delivering a 3.5 GB geotiff for overlay on Google Earth, while also being able to export the project for investigators to view at actual ground height, saving time, providing a safety net in rugged terrain, and a digital record/twin of the crash scene that may be used until the accident investigation is closed.

 

EQUIPMENT USED

●  2X Autel EVOII™ Pro aircraft

●  Autel Mission Planner software

●  FoxFury D3060 lighting

●  DTResearch 301 RTK tablet

●  Seko field mast/legs

●  Seko RTK antenna

●  Hoodman GCP

●  Hoodman Hoods

●  Manfrotto Tripod

●  Dot3D Windows 10 software

●  Pix4DMapper software

●  Luminar 4 software

Douglas Spotted Eagle is the Founder and Director of Educational Programming at Sundance Media Group.  SMG serves as a consultant within the sUAS industry, offering training and speaking engagements on sUAS topics: UAV cinematography, commercial and infrastructural sUAS applications, sUAS risk management, night UAV flight, aerial security systems, and 107 training.   

 

By | October 16th, 2020|Drone Safety, Law Enforcement, Mapping, Photography, Post-Production, Public Safety, sUAS, Technology, UAV|Comments Off on Autel EVO II Pro, Pix4D, and Aviation Accident Investigation

WEBINAR – Urban Turbulence & Micro Climates with your UAS

Regular Pricing19.95 USD
Your eTicket will be emailed after payment to your PayPal email address.

Have you ever had a situation in the field where your sUAS seemed to have a mind of its own?  In this 90 minute webinar, we’ll discuss how wind flow patterns offer predictability if one is able to read the environment.   We’ll explore how seemingly unpredictable sUAS behavior can be predicted based on understanding micro climates and urban turbulence.

Environmental concerns play a significant role in capturing data with a drone, particularly when 3D modeling is the goal, or when accurate measurements are required. In this 90 minute session, we will discuss and demonstrate the impacts of winds and environment on stable, safe, and useful sUAS flight. We’ll also diagram why common types of sUAS incidents occur, helping pilots to understand how to avoid the seemingly unavoidable crashes in urban environments.   Last, we’ll have an interactive discussion on how to identify and read micro climates in the urban environment.

Pilots both manned and unmanned admit they haven’t considered some of these factors in the past, and now have a better understanding of why drones crash into buildings, seemingly without pilot input.  Join us to learn more in this fresh topic in UA operation.   It is particularly applicable to working in cityscapes, but does also delve into forests, communication towers, etc.

Join Joanne Leming and Douglas Spotted Eagle for this LIVE 90 min session is created for anyone flying sUAS for mapping, modeling, forensic capture, or environmental data gathering purposes.

Once you have registered, we will send you a login for the webinar.  We look forward to training with you!

 

Regular Pricing19.95 USD
Your eTicket will be emailed after payment to your PayPal email address.

By | April 24th, 2020|0 Comments

NAB NY 2019

 

 

 

 

 

Why come to NAB Show New York?

“Attending NAB Show (New York) brings awareness and appreciation for how changes in technology drive platform decisions regarding new projects anticipating a world audience particularly in news gathering.”

 

Shoot to post training.

A two-day training event featuring a variety of training for intermediate-to-advanced level users including film, TV and video editors, motion graphics designers, colorists and producers.

By | October 16th, 2019|0 Comments

CompTIA Communities & Councils Forum (CCF)

March 11, 2019 – March 13, 2019

CHICAGO, IL

Join us for our second annual CompTIA Communities & Councils Forum (CompTIA CCF).  New this year, CCF has been expanded to include members of CompTIA’s five Industry Advisory Councils, in addition to our seven U.S. Communities.  The objective of CompTIA CCF is to further the discussion and exploration of some of the most pressing issues and opportunities in the tech industry today and for members of the industry to formulate and collaborate on 2019 member initiatives that will have a positive impact on their market spaces.  Book your stay with us today and,

•             Participate in impactful, productive peer-to-peer meetings.

•             Network with top industry leaders.

•             Learn about the newest disruptive technologies.

•             Gain insightful thought-leadership.

•             Contribute to impactful industry initiatives.

•             Experience high level networking across multiple tech sectors.

Don’t miss this opportunity to engage with members of CompTIA’s communities including Emerging Technology, Advancing Women in Technology, Advancing Diversity in Technology, Technology Lifecycle Services, Future Leaders, IT Security, Managed Services, and members of our Industry Advisory Councils including Blockchain, Business Applications, Drones, Smart Cities and the Channel Advisory Board.

Event Dates: Monday, March 11 – Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Location: Chicago Marriott Downtown
540 North Michigan Ave.
Chicago, Illinois 60611
(312) 836-0100
Room Rate: $170 plus tax

Reservation Cutoff Date: Monday, March 4th. Please be aware the room block may fill before that date.

AGENDA and PRICING

Who Should Attend?
This event is suitable for both the highly engaged member, and those new to CompTIA, and is a great way to connect with and leverage your industry trade association.

Contact:
Please contact Jaime Little at JLittle@comptia.org with any questions.

REGISTER NOW

By | February 28th, 2019|0 Comments

Government Expo – The National Drone Show 2018

Join Douglas Spotted Eagle at the for a full day sUAS Workshop

DC Post|Production Conference

A three-day training event, the DC Post | Production Conference is designed for professionals in TV, video, film, motion graphics and new media who wish to maximize their creativity and efficiency and improve their technical skills. Sessions are geared toward intermediate to advanced professionals and are presented theater-style with ample time for Q&A. The conference runs three full days in four parallel tracks.Gi

By | November 28th, 2018|0 Comments

DRONE PHOTOGRAPHY & VIDEOGRAPHY INTENSIVE

Session Number:DRONE

Room:1E17

Saturday, October 28, 2017: 10:15 AM – 4:00 PM

Speaker(s)

Speaker/Presenter  Douglas Spotted Eagle

Description

Who Should Attend
Editors, photographers, filmmakers, drone pilots and anyone wanting to know more about the burgeoning world of UAVs/drones should attend. Add UAVs to your toolset.   Understand which drone is best for various purposes, capture the best footage and photos  you can, and understand filters and codecs to quickly incorporate drone footage into your production process while having fun and flying safely.

Schedule:
10:15am – 10:30am:  Welcome & Introduction
10:30 am – 1:00pm:  Part I:  Introduction to Drone (UAV) Photography & Videography (2.5 hours)
1:00 pm – 1:45pm: Lunch Break (45 min)


Tracks:  Drone


Sponsored by:

SMG

 

By | October 28th, 2018|0 Comments

10 Drone Tips for Successful Videos

 

Session Number:DRONE2

Room:1E10

Friday, October 27, 2017: 10:15 AM – 12:15 PM

Speaker(s)

Speaker/Presenter Douglas Spotted Eagle

Description

While flying your drone is a skill, knowing how to capture the best video from your UAV flights is equally, if not more important. In this overview session, we will examine the top 10 expert tips to inspire successful video output from your drone flights. Topics covered will be an overview of safety procedures, setup and planning for your flight, post-flight requirements and, ultimately, how to create great video.


Tracks: Drone


Sponsored by:

SMG

 

By | October 27th, 2018|0 Comments

Audio for Interviews and Corporate Production

Audio for Interviews and Corporate Production

Thu. October 18| 3:45 PM – 5:00 PM | 1A08/1A09

Audio is 70% of what the audience SEES and, in this session, we’ll go into the various tools and techniques for the best-possible audio. We’ll look at shotgun vs lavalier mics, hypercardiods on a boom vs omni directionals in a studio environment, how to minimize and eliminate background noise for post, capturing everything you’ll need for great post-ready audio for best production sound possible without asking your client to spend an arm and a leg. Taught by a Grammy recipient and Oscar nominee Douglas Spotted Eagle, this is a very popular session in the production world.
Who Should Attend:
Anyone with any relationship to audio in any form will benefit from this session. Whether you know one end of the microphone from the other, this session provides useful information for newcomers and veterans alike.

Program: Post|Production Conference NYC

Session Topics and Tracks: Production Techniques

Registration Package: NY Post|Production Conference

By | October 18th, 2018|0 Comments

Video To Go Backpack Productions Kits

 

Video To Go Backpack Productions Kits

Thu. October 18| 10:00 AM – 11:15 AM | 1A08/1A09

Production kits are shrinking in size while growing more powerful. Whether it’s shrinking overhead space, or the desire to be a power-house, one-person production company, lightweight tools are the new focus for documentary, narrative, corporate, and education. We’re going to dive into the tools available while also demonstrating techniques along with the tools for maximum production efficiency. Cameras, lighting, audio, and support systems.
Who Should Attend:
This session is for the guerilla producer/editor (preditor) who requires lightweight and portable production systems. Ideal for the corporate videographer, or for those hired-gun interviews, this session will not only discuss the latest/greatest tools for field production, but also learn time-saving techniques that produce great video.

Program: Post|Production Conference NYC

Session Topics and Tracks: Production Techniques

Registration Package: NY Post|Production Conference

By | October 18th, 2018|0 Comments

NAB NY 2018 – Post|Production World

                      

 

Shoot to Post Training

Join us at Post|Production Conference NYC, a multi-day event featuring a variety of training. Produced in partnership with Future Media Concepts, you’ll take in training designed for intermediate-to-advanced level users including film, TV and video editors, motion graphics designers, colorists and producers.

Workshops and Classes for Content Creators and Editors

Dive deep into topics such as UAV, cinematic lighting, and corporate in-house production with one-day workshops taught by veteran experts and build expertise that you can apply immediately to your current and future projects.

NOTE: Each workshop and class is separately ticketed.

Post Production Campus

Advanced Training for Content Creators and Editors

Be a part of this show floor immersive learning and networking area covering everything from shoot to post. Watch 30-minute presentations at the theater, that impart solid information and product knowledge direct from exhibitors and vendors.

Post|Production Campus Session Information

By | October 16th, 2018|0 Comments