Castaneda Engineering advances accident reconstruction with next-generation Reality Capture

When you need to reconstruct accidents, what is the safest and fastest way to thoroughly and accurately measure and document the accident scenes and crash vehicles?

Since 2010, Castaneda Engineering, a consulting forensic engineering firm specializing in accident reconstruction, has employed 3D laser scanners to quickly and safely document and measure sites and evidence for its accident investigations and reconstructions. The Fresno, CA-based firm has been driven by a continuous desire to provide its clients in the legal and insurance communities with the most detailed and thorough analyses as well as the highest quality deliverables. This pursuit of a higher standard has kept Castaneda Engineering committed to making continuing investments to remain at the forefront of emerging technologies.

Transitions to laser scanning technologies

3D laser scanning enables Castaneda Engineering to capture comprehensive crash data in a short amount of time.


In 2010, the firm acquired its first Leica ScanStation C10 laser scanner to supplement its Leica robotic total station and photogrammetry equipment. The benefits of documenting sites and crash vehicles with a 3D laser scanner were immediately evident in the extensive amounts of data collected within a relatively short amount of time.

3D laser scanning provides the ability to quickly and safely document physical evidence while also capturing geometric and topographic information across an entire area.

The firm soon acquired a second ScanStation C10 so it could deploy two units at once and expedite site documentations. A short time later, the firm added a faster ScanStation P40 laser scanner to its toolbox, which allowed the deployment of three survey-grade scanning units to document a site when necessary. “Our No. 1 goal at a site has always been to document as much physical evidence as we possibly can in the safest manner possible,” says Rene Castaneda, PE, the firm’s founder and owner. “In short, the less time we have to remain at a site where there is active traffic, the less exposed we’ll be to potential hazards. Employing 3D laser scanners has afforded us the ability to document all the physical evidence present at a site while, at the same time, collecting geometric and topographic information for the entire area of interest in a quick and safe manner. There is a great sense of confidence in knowing that the Leica scanners will function reliably in the field and, when we return to the office, we’ll have all the data we need, and more.”

Castaneda Engineering also had purchased several compact phase-based laser scanners from another manufacturer for ease of portability when traveling by air. While their relatively smaller size was a bonus for air travel, the overall build quality and scan data noise levels were always a concern. “Working in the central valley of California and in hot areas within the Southwestern United States, we had a few occasions in the field when our compact phase-based scanners would overheat, causing us to pause our documentation of a site or crash vehicle until the units could cool. We also noticed that the level of noise in the phase-based scan data was greater than we had grown accustomed to with the Leica time of flight scanners. The additional noise required more ‘cleanup’ time back at the office,” Castaneda says.

Castaneda, who is committed to improving the firm’s workflow and methods, has always kept a lookout for the next big breakthrough in technology. In June 2018, he found it. “As soon as I witnessed the Leica RTC360 scanner, I knew that it would have a huge impact on our work,” he says.

Dense, clean point clouds deliver value

The RTC360 3D laser scanner is portable, highly automated, intuitive and incredibly fast, providing the ability to capture a complete scene scan, including high-dynamic range imagery, in less than two minutes. It meets the standards of a scientific instrument with a published 3D positional accuracy. Its rugged design and enclosed mirror allow it to be used in any weather, and it can geotag photos and notes automatically in the field.

The data quality and speed of the Leica RTC360 laser scanners helps Castaneda Engineering maximize safety and efficiency when documenting crash scenes. The scanner’s compact form factor is an additional benefit.

But what Castaneda appreciates the most about the new technology is the data quality it achieves and the speed at which it does so with its high capture rate. “The RTC360 can collect an extreme amount of very clean and accurate data in a minimal amount of time,” he says. “We can acquire a very clean and dense point cloud anywhere from a minute and a half to just under two minutes for every setup. This completely transforms our approach as it significantly reduces the amount of time we have to remain next to active traffic and, thus, our team’s exposure to hazards in the field. An additional and welcomed benefit is that it is so compact we can put in a backpack with a tripod as carry-on luggage.

To give an example of the time savings, Castaneda says he used to budget at least one hour for two engineers to document 750 feet of roadway data using two ScanStation C10s. With a single RTC360, he can complete this type of scan by himself in approximately 20 minutes. “We recently scanned approximately 2500 feet of an Interstate in the desert with two of our RTC360 units in less than one hour. I can perform a complete scan of a crash vehicle – interior and exterior – in less than 20 minutes and have a very, very clean and dense point cloud,” he says.

After just 20 minutes of scan time, Castaneda Engineering achieves a clean, dense point cloud of crash vehicles.

Using the RTC360 enables Castaneda Engineering to capture roadway data in a fraction of the time compared to other laser scanners.

The new laser scanner also pre-registers the point cloud data in the field automatically, which makes it easy to use and saves even more time back in the office.

The ability to collect a dense, clean point cloud, combined with the HDR imagery and in-field registration, enables Castaneda and his team to deliver results to their clients much faster. “Our clients benefit not just from the speed of data collection, but also the quality of it. We are so convinced of the benefits of the RTC360 that we are currently the proud owners of three units,” he says.

Fast, agile, precise scanning raises the bar

Over the last several years, 3D laser scanning has become the standard for data collection in accident investigation and reconstruction. With the ability to complete high-quality scans in a fraction of the time with proven accuracy and a streamlined workflow, Castaneda Engineering is leading the way in a new era of forensic engineering.

Technology advances give us an unprecedented ability to capture data rapidly and accurately,” Castaneda says. “When we receive a new accident reconstruction assignment, I’m confident that we’ll be deploying the best instruments available for field data documentation. Ultimately, this data will serve as the foundation for our analysis and our ability to find answers to even the most difficult questions in a way that is both highly efficient and verifiable.

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