Thermal drone technology
The thermal drones assist patrolmen with nighttime Search and Rescue operations, while the standard drones are used for daytime searches, rescues, and crash scenes. The drones record their altitude, flight speed, and the overall number of photos taken during each mission.
The thermal models have larger cameras, which can convert infrared radiation into visible images and find people in the dark or hot spots in wildfires.
A standard drone was recently used by Trooper Martinez to investigate a small plane crash that occurred on January 7. By remotely piloting the drone, Trooper Martinez was able to collect more than 300 photos of the crash site, which helped determine the cause of the accident. Orange markers were placed at the crash site, and a software program pieced the images together to provide an accurate two-dimensional image of the crash site.
Thomas said the result was “amazingly accurate” and that “the two-dimensional image provides us with a measurable crash scene that can allow investigators to determine how fast a vehicle was going, the point of impact, and the vehicle dimensions.”
Combining data from vehicles on the ground with data from the drone helps give a full picture of the accident scene and lets NSP clear the road quickly, so traffic can start moving again sooner.
On average, NSP is now clearing a scene 2-4 hours sooner than before, thanks to the drones. In most cases, a trooper besides the drone operator is present to watch the drone and look out for obstacles like trees and power lines. However, in emergency situations, troopers are allowed to pilot the drone without direct supervision.
Trooper Seth Olson is one of two forensic mappers, or drone operators, in western Nebraska. Olson said that troopers need a remote pilot license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to be drone pilots. The drones must receive FAA clearance to fly in military areas, including Fort McPherson National Cemetery and Shrine.
Olson said that when he joined the state trooper program, he did not expect to become a drone pilot, but he likes the job. Troopers must undergo basic flight training, extensive software program training, and continuing education training to become certified drone pilots. The training includes low-light search and rescue, and standard drones are controlled by an app on a smartphone, while thermal drones have a controller with a larger screen.
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