It’s here, cost effective, efficient aerial video for forensic investigations!

It sounds like a commercial, but I was excited when I learned that you can now plan a drone flight and aerial video of a site from your office armchair.  Then see the virtual flight in 3D on Google earth – all before you drive to the site and days before the real flight.

You can get a preview of video taken during a virtual flight then, with a click of the mouse, change the drone’s flight path, speed and altitude, and the video camera angle.  Do this as often as you like, after as many virtual flights as you like, till you’re happy you’ve captured what you need – all from your armchair.

Needless to say, you can also plan as many different flights as you like over and around your accident, building or crane collapse site.

Then – after the client reviews all virtual flights on a CD and likes what he sees – drive to the site and fly it for real.  New software and Google earth make it happen.

Robert Guertin, Dartmouth, drone pilot and photographer gave me a demonstration a few days ago and it was impressive. (Ref. 1)


I retain Robert now to take aerial video from a drone of all sites where I’m carrying out a forensic investigation.  In the past we drove to the site with a drone fitted with a video camera and flew the site, seeing it for the first time from the air.  We made several flights – on site, not from an armchair – till we got the scene and the surrounding terrain on video in the detail I needed.

I got good data – I’m in awe about the worth of this forensic technique; including this one, I’ve posted 15 blogs on low level aerial video since 2015.  But sometimes I would get back to the office and after studying the video and doing some terrain analysis find that I might have flown additional paths or one or two in a different way and got even better data.

(Terrain analysis is another valuable technique in engineering – particularly now with low level aerial video – which I’ll tell you about later.  The terrain and the flora hold secrets to what underlies the site and what’s happened there in the past)


But, now we plan my flights from an office armchair. The software engages Google earth and brings up a 2D picture of the site on Robert’s desktop.  We’ve all seen these Google earth pictures.  I plan a flight over our site marking the path with way points on the 2D picture – a click of the mouse for each point.

The software then allows me to specify the height of the drone, it’s direction (heading in aviation) and it’s speed at each way point.  I also specify the camera angle, the view I want of my client’s site.

We engage Google earth again and ask the software to export the flight path’s file to Google earth.  This gives a 3D Google earth image of our site with the flight path superimposed.  We then fly this virtual flight path from our armchairs.

I have a look at what we’re getting during the flight.  If I don’t like what I see we disengage from Google earth, tweak the flight specification at each way point and fly again.  When we get a virtual flight and video coverage that collects the data I need, Robert produces a video clip and I send it to the client for approval.

On the client’s approval we drive to the site, load the flight plan to the drone and video camera and fly the site.  The software sends the drone on all the virtual flight paths we specified and the camera on board takes real video.  The video is put on a disk and the field work is done.

You can imagine the cost effectiveness of this forensic technique.  You capture what you need at your site then study and analyse the data later in your office.  It’s easy, productive and fun.  Forensic engineering investigation doesn’t get much better than this.


Virtual Flight Demonstrations

Robert demonstrated this technique for me at three sites, sitting in an armchair in his office.

A wharf in Nova Scotia.  This was one of Robert’s for-real commissions.  The client wanted the wharf repaired.  Robert was asked to fly the site and video the wharf and it’s present condition.  He planned distant, middle distant and close-up video of the wharf with the drone flying specified virtual paths, some at tree top level and others at scary, wave top heights.

The client was then sent a CD of the virtual flights for approval.  This was got then Robert went to the site and flew it for real, same as he’s done for me several times.  I saw all of both the virtual and real flights over and around the wharf – there was little difference between the two – and they were good.

The Dartmouth waterfront.  Robert then planned a virtual flight in 3D along the Dartmouth waterfront in front of Admiralty house then flew it as I watched from my armchair.  He specified all the flight and camera parameters identified above same as he would do if someone wanted to design and construct a building on the waterfront.

My home and neighbourhood in Dartmouth.  Finally, if I wasn’t impressed enough already, just to be sure, he then designed a virtual flight and video of my home and neighbourhood and flew it, as I watched from my armchair in his office.


  1. Meeting with Robert Guertin, Videographer, photographer, drone pilot, Millenium Film and Video Productions Ltd., Dartmouth, Nova Scotia


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