The Michigan State Police are seeking authorization to use an aerial drone to obtain bird’s-eye views of emergency situations across the state, as well as have the ability to take photographs of vehicle crash scenes in order to gain a different perspective of the accidents.
According to CBS Detroit, the department is working to obtain permission next month from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly a small, remote-controlled helicopter. The state police pilots have been training to use the $158,000 drone for more than a year.
The thought is that using the drone could reduce the time required to survey and reconstruct major vehicle crash scenes.
Referring to the 193-vehicle pileup that occurred earlier in the month, Col. Kriste Kirbbey Etue, Director of the Michigan State Police said, “That would have been so useful [to have had the use a drone].”
The crash killed one man and closed a stretch of I-94 between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek for two days. Investigators needed time to take detailed measurements and photos of the scene before it could be cleared, thus extending its closing.
“The quicker we can get accidents cleared, to me that’s a game changer for how we do law enforcement,” said 1st Lt. Chris Bush, Commander of Field Support and Aviation.
CBS Detroit reported that the Aeryon SkyRanger unmanned aerial vehicle can take hundreds of overlapping photos so that a computer program can create a three-dimensional map of a crash, helping investigators reconstruct how a vehicle pileup transpired.
The drone, which fits inside a backpack, is limited to a maximum altitude of 400 feet and operators must be able to see the device while flying it, Bush said.
Currently, the request is for one drone based out of the state police’s aviation unit at the Lansing airport. If successful, more could be added in other locations. The American Civil Liberties Union’s Michigan chapter is also reviewing the policies for operating the drone, per the request of the state police.
“We have no qualms really with the state police,” said Shelli Weisberg, Director of Legislative Affairs for the ACLU of Michigan. “We understand it’s a good tool for them to use for accident reconstruction.”
A handful of municipal police agencies across the U.S. have been granted licenses to fly unmanned aerial vehicles by the FAA. According to Bush, FAA officials plan to be in Lansing next month to make a final review of the state police’s training and drone use policies.