DETROIT (WWJ/AP) - Michigan State Police have asked for authorization to use an aerial drone to photograph vehicle crash scenes and give a bird's-eye view of other emergency situations across the state.
The agency hopes to get permission next month from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly a small, $158,000 remote-controlled helicopter that state police pilots have been training to use for more than a year, according to a report in The Detroit News.
The drone, for example, would reduce the time required to survey and reconstruct major crash scenes, such as this month's 193-vehicle pileup that killed one man and closed a stretch of I-94 between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek for two days.
"That would have been so useful," said Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue, director of the Michigan State Police.
The time it took to reopen the freeway was dictated in part by the needs of crash investigators, who had to take detailed measurements and photos of the scene before they could begin clearing passenger vehicles and semi-trucks, Etue said.
The Aeryon SkyRanger unmanned aerial vehicle takes hundreds of overlapping photos that a computer program stitches together to create a three-dimensional map of a crash, helping investigators reconstruct how vehicle pileups occur, 1st Lt. Chris Bush said.
"The quicker we can get accidents cleared, to me that's a game changer for how we do law enforcement," said Bush, commander of field support and aviation.
The FAA has granted licenses to fly unmanned aerial vehicles to a handful of municipal police agencies across the country, the newspaper reported. FAA officials plan to be in Lansing next month to make a final review of the state police's training and drone use policies, Bush said.
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, Bush said.
Plans call for one drone based out of the state police's aviation unit at the Lansing airport, Bush said. More could be added later in other locations. State police also asked the American Civil Liberties Union's Michigan chapter review its policies for operating its drone.
"We have no qualms really with the state police," said Shelli Weisberg, legislative affairs director for the ACLU of Michigan. "We understand it's a good tool for them to use for accident reconstruction."
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