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Oregon State Police testing high-flying technology

Courtesy Oregon State Police

As he prepares to launch the mini 4 rotor helicopter in the parking lot of his St. Helens office, Oregon State Police trooper William Bush is very formal, following all the rules.

“We’re not pilots that are out there flying around casually," he said.

There's a pre-flight check, ground rules for operation, and information, mainly still pictures, that are is recorded with the help of different software.

One thing you don't do here is call this piece of technology a "drone." It's an sUAS - small Unmanned Aircraft System.

Bush has been authorized to test the sUAS. He's a member of OSP's Collision Reconstruction Unit.

“The easiest way to say it is, we’re the ones that document the physical evidence," he said. "And then there are tiers within the unit that are experts in its analysis.”

Until recently, the team has employed everything from simple technology like a tape measure, to photos and video, and a GPS-based surveying device to record data at crash scenes. It's a process that can take anywhere from 45 minutes to several hours depending on how serious the crash is. They have to take time recording information because distance calculations matter in their work.

The sUAS flies along a planned out path scanning and capturing the photos which can eventually be rendered into a top down view or 3-D image of the scene. The technology has opened some new doors for investigators.

“We have a readout of everything that’s going on," said Bush. The FAA and Oregon state statutes mandate the sUAS can only climb to 300 feet. Troopers have a five-day window once an investigation starts to fly the helicopter.

“Obviously people don’t want law enforcement in particular up in the air always looking, that’s not our purpose at all," he said.

Troopers are working to expedite the investigation process.

The testing is being supported by a small grant, but the technology and associated software are changing too rapidly for OSP to make a full investment right now.

“It’s expanded use, we’re going to be taking those incremental steps, because we don’t want to make an investment that’s irresponsible with taxpayer money," he said.

But the future is bright for this technology, and Bush believes the possibilities of its use are far-reaching.

“Watching it develop over the course of the next five years, I’m in a fortunate position to be able to be a part of it," he said.



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