[author: Chris Stewart]


Forensic technology is advancing at a rapid pace. Americans are bombarded with high-tech forensics in every TV show or movie they watch. Of ITUC at MacGyver, investigators solve their cases and problems with innovative technology. Jury members are not immune to the influence of these popular media portrayals; they expect to see state-of-the-art technology used in the analysis of a case. These cases can range from, but are not limited to, traffic collisions, fire investigations, or structural failure investigations. As forensic engineers, problem solving is our job and the use of cutting-edge technology is expected, not always by lawyers and adjusters, but certainly by jurors.

This article will discuss 3D scanners, high definition (HD) drones, video analysis software and Berla iVe Vehicle Infotainment data analysis software and discuss how they can be used in a case.

3D scanning

Recent developments in 3D scanner technology have made 3D scanning a common tool in a wide range of investigations. The 3D scanner can preserve the scene and/or the object in digital format with more precision than the combination of diagrams, maps and/or photographs, which until recently was the norm. 3D scanner technology enables rapid 360 degree documentation of scenes, vehicles or machinery. Typical scan times (varies depending on scan settings chosen) are less than 10 minutes per scan and decreasing as technology advances. When documenting with a 3D scanner, few things go unnoticed. The speed and accuracy of the technology is constantly improving, and the time needed on site to capture more detailed measurements is decreasing. While this is important in static situations (stored evidence, open roadway, etc.), it is even more important in scene investigation when the situation is still potentially dynamic and time is of the essence.

The accuracy of a 3D scanner provides the user with comprehensive data that is not isolated to any particular point but is available for any scanned area. This ensures that the day, the day after or a year after the incident, the visible dimensions and conditions of the location, structures and objects are preserved. Examples would be a road with temporary construction closures, or a building with a fire or structural damage. In both of these situations, the locations will change, but with a 3D scan, a visual, measurable copy of the location’s state can be stored indefinitely to provide actionable details and data in the future if needed.


The insert is the representation of a scanned vehicle (Photo 1). Each pixel you see is a three-dimensional data point. With over 50 million data points, documenting vehicle damage is simple. The amount of data also offers additional options for convincing demonstrative aids.

High definition drones

Drones are beginning to play a primary role in forensic engineering. Drone platforms equipped with 4K cameras enable unprecedented video and photographic documentation of active or older accident sites, fire scenes, building inspections, and comprehensive vehicle documentation (Photo 2). As with the 3D scanner, documentation using a drone rig is quick and thorough, offering a wide range of bird’s eye views all the way up to a human first person perspective. For larger areas, the drone will be able to provide a faster scan of the area in question than a typical 3D scanner. The drone also has the ability to provide data from a higher position which may be required in some surveys.

Video and photographs from a drone platform are captured in high resolution digital formats. These high-resolution images, combined with ground targets, reference measurements or scanner data, can be used to obtain precise measurements. The exceptional quality of the photographs allows the use of Photomodeler or other analysis software.

Animations are another use of drone video. Video shot using the drone can be combined with forensic animations to serve as demonstrative aids to mediation or trial.

Dash Cams/Surveillance Video Analytics

Dashcams and CCTV are becoming more common as technologies become cheaper and more accessible. Dash cameras are used in large commercial fleets, recreational vehicles and private vehicles. Often, the presentation of dash cam video may be all that is needed to close a case or claim. But in most cases, the video captured by the camera is used to acquire more accurate dimensional and velocity data for vehicle accident reconstruction. The dash cam or surveillance video can also be used to refute, confirm or clarify testimonials.

Video surveillance also offers the possibility of obtaining additional information about an accident or an event. The new security cameras capture events in HD format. High-resolution video provides increased accuracy during analysis. In an accident scene involving an intersection, it can provide information about the phasing of traffic lights at the time of the collision and the exact location of the vehicles involved. In a fire investigation, it can help provide the area of ​​origin and, in some cases, the cause.

Dashcam and security video analysis is also progressing. Now software, originally used in the film industry, is used to analyze video for speed and distance data. This software, together with scene and vehicle documentation, can lead to very accurate analysis and reconstruction of crashes and fire development.

An example of this technology is SynthEyes, which provides engineers with comprehensive tools to obtain relevant data from on-board cameras or surveillance video footage. The inset is an example of SynthEyes technology applied to dash cam video of an incident (Photo 3).

Forensic analysis of the BERLA iVe vehicle system

New technologies developed by BERLA and their iVe Vehicle System Forensics allow us to acquire the information stored in many newer vehicles which may include historical location, system operational data (hard acceleration, hard braking, gear changes, wheel speed, etc.), connected devices and if they were in use, timestamps, geographic data and many other data captured by the vehicle. Unlike an EDR which requires an event to store pre- and post-crash data, this is information that is constantly stored in the vehicle’s infotainment and telematics systems. Obtaining this data can provide insight into the driver’s actions leading up to the crash, including the timing of the crash. In the event of a hit-and-run, the data may indicate whether that vehicle was in the accident area at that specific time and date. Additionally, the data can also indicate whether any devices related to the infotainment system were in use at the time of the crash.

Depending on the data available in the vehicle of interest, the information obtained can help increase the accuracy of a reconstruction. It can also help with potential distracted driving claims leading to a collision. The information may also provide insight into the driving behavior leading up to and including the collision. In the case of bicycle and pedestrian collisions where no event is recorded by the EDR due to too small a delta V to record an event, the vehicle systems and location information, which is constantly recorded, can provide useful information for reconstruction. .


Today is all about having the latest and greatest technology. As engineers and investigators, we share this sentiment, but we also understand that the end result of our work is to educate and explain. What makes these technologies so important is not only the comprehensive data they offer, but also the variety of approaches they offer. With data from a 3D scanner or HD drone, it is possible to choose the level of sophistication that the expert chooses to present during a case. In other words, it is possible to tailor the approach to the audience and the case. For example, it may be best to use 2D line drawings of the scene and vehicles displayed on easels for the jury. Additionally, a 3D image/model could provide different perspectives of the same scene, and the presenter could change the point of view on demand. 3D data from the scene and vehicles could further be used to render animation and still images that explain the reconstruction of an accident, the operation of a particular machine or the way a fire develops. Another option would be to use the data to 3D print a scale model of the scene, vehicle, building or machine (Photo 4). This method allows for hands-on demonstrations and explanation of the analysis. When it comes to ‘show and tell’, showing often trumps explaining.


Cutting-edge technology is everywhere, and the courtroom is no exception. The use of advanced technology from the outset of an investigation is expected by most members of the jury. 3D scanning, 4K drone flights, advanced video analysis software, and vehicle infotainment and telematics data are state-of-the-art in evidence preservation and accident analysis.

Using state-of-the-art technology provides more information and options for analyzing and presenting case issues. More information and options can also be helpful in the decision-making process on how to handle a claim or case.


We would like to thank Jonathan Wolgemuth and Chris Stewart, PE for their knowledge and expertise which greatly contributed to this research.