Drones and Textile Evidence – A guest blog

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Last year I supervised a final year student, Alistair Bucknell, for his research project.  We decided to look at the use of drones in forensic investigations and any affect they may have on crimescene evidence.  Alistairs work was so thorough that we decided to submit it to a scientific journal Science and Justice. To celebrate it’s arrival in print Alistair has written a blog on his experience.




Pre-project meetings vary greatly depending on the project type, and the interests of the tutor and student. I was assigned to “Forensic Chemistry/Investigation” and there were many avenues to explore. So, when I had my meeting with Dr Bassindale, we discussed some of the areas that had been briefly mentioned during the course. One area that had caught my interest a few months earlier was a group discussion on the future of Forensic Science and the use of drones in monitoring a scene had been brought up, which resulted in a unanimous outcry over how it would jeopardise scene integrity.

I asked if it would be permitted for me to use such a drone in an enclosed environment to measure its effect on trace evidence at varying pass-over heights, I was told to come up with an initial experimental design & risk assess the work and to come back in a few days.

I discovered a magazine article where technologist Gray Scott was interviewed on the future of drones in Police work. One of the big areas Scott alluded to was using a drone to survey, video log, and photograph crime scenes before investigators entered the scene in person.

I knew for safety reasons the best trace evidence to look at would be textile fibres as they were safer to make than glass, asbestos or GSR and didn’t have sharp edges. I had planned how I was to statistically analyse the data, how I would measure the changes, where I planned to use the drone. I allocated times to do the work & if need be, repeat any tests if there were any problems. I knew where I could source all of the materials (other than the drone, which would be decided by the department providing it met the criterion of a HD camera capable of the CSI work). The only doubt I had about the experimental set-up at this point was how to ensure the drone remained at the intended height, being an ex-maths boffin, I came up with an idea of using 3 separate guy lines and trigonometry to keep the drone at each height increment by varying the lengths of the lines. It would have taken a while, but I had planned time for adjusting these lines during the running of the tests. By happy accident when the department decided on the AR2.0, it had an altimeter, which allowed me to dispense entirely with the guy line apparatus and left me with sufficient time to look into the effect “distance from take-off” had on the same evidence set up, this gave me a lot more confidence in the experimental design.

The results for the smooth floor surfaces met my predictions, and lost all their evidence at all tested pass-over heights, the fibrous floor surfaces impressed me with their retention at 2m and higher. The result that impressed me most wasn’t quantifiable in data but an observation, the fibres clumped into balls and rolled away rather than just being scattered in all directions.

I enjoyed the project because it was looking at new yet relevant areas in crime scene investigation, even though finding published literature on this topic was difficult. Whilst I felt other areas of the “Forensic Chemistry/Investigation” topic had the benefit of plenty of references and pre-existing data to base an project on, I felt my project could have easily ended up losing its originality and resulted in being a tribute act to someone else’s work.


It was a pleasure to work with Alistair.  The full paper can be found at this link.

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About Dr Tom Bassindale

Dr Tom Bassindale is a forensic scientist, and the founder of We Are Forensic. He is currently the subject lead for chemistry and forensic science at Sheffield Hallam University. He's managed hundreds of forensic toxicology cases, and is an experienced court witness. He has specialist expertise in forensic toxicology and drug testing in sport. And yes... he watches CSI.