Drones could help solve fatal mysteries

These days, drones are being used for much more than just fun, as they are becoming a vital part of law enforcement.

Some drones are helping investigators find homicide victims, as well as missing people.

Gene Robinson, who is a drone pilot, hovered a drone over the Forensic Anthropology Research facility at Texas State University, where dozens of bodies, in various states of decomposition, are buried on-site.

The goal for the body farms is to gain a better understanding of the decomposition process, so police can get as much information about the body as possible.

The drone that hovered above the facility was collecting images from an infrared camera, and what the drone found was surprising.

"These guys should have been the same temperature as the ground," said Robinson. He said the drone can detect heat from bodies that have been buried for up to two years.

"They are still there, they're still glowing as hot," said Robinson. "We were surprised to see that after such a long period of time, that they still had a heat signature."

The work runs contrary to anything Anthropologists have known before, and the Forensic Anthropology Center Director, Daniel Wescott, is excited about the potential benefit drone brings to law enforcement.

"It's going to save manpower, it's going to save time," said Wescott. "It's going to better prepare them for what they need to do."

According to Wescott, a body will give off a heat signature for up to 30 days, as it absorbs heat at a higher rate than the surrounding soil. Heat beyond that range is not produced by the bodies, but from the soil that surrounds them.

"The heat's going to differentiate how it goes through disturbed soil, versus the compact soil that's normally there," said Wescott.

Many law enforcement agencies already use infrared technology in helicopters. With drones, law enforcement agencies now have a cheaper way to bring closure to many missing persons cases.

"The whole purpose of our research and stuff is to bring closure to families," said Wescott. "It's to help identify the remains. They may not want to know that they're dead, but they at least will know what happened to them."

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