Drone to the Face: Virginia Tech Tests Human/Drone Collisions

Don't worry. They're using crash test dummies. By using biomechanics and crash test science, Virginia Tech is hoping to help develop regulations that would allow drones to be flown over people in the future.

Currently, drones are generally not allowed to operate over people without a special waiver for fear of the injury they may cause in a crash. However, through careful research into the dynamics and biomechanics of human/drone collisions, Virginia Tech scientists are hoping to enable regulations that would greatly expand the potential uses for drones: not just taking photos and video over people, but things like package delivery as well. 

Mark Blanks, the director of the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, notes: 

The majority of applications would be much more effective if they weren’t restricted from operating over people, but you have to demonstrate that it can be done safely. The risk of injury is very low, particularly with small aircraft. This research can mitigate those risks further. And we have the world’s best team doing it.

The idea is to develop acceptable risk thresholds from which regulations could be created that would allow certain aircraft to fly over people in certain situations. The lab is the same that developed concussion risk ratings for football and hockey helmets and is hoping to now extend their work to other sports in addition to drones with research that will guide policy-making and lead to safer products.

The Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership has already developed strategies for drone traffic management, safe operation with larger aircraft, flights beyond the visual line of sight rule, and detect and avoid systems. With the potential of drones increasing every day, this is valuable research that will help to further guide their implementation in society. 

[via VT News]




Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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The newer DJI Phantom 4 & Pro as well as the Inspire 2 have object detection and avoidance systems.

Totally safe, right?

I keep wondering what safety features would be required to address the inevitable power failures. I mean, not a whole lot can be done when the darn thing just starts falling from the sky... aside from something like an inflatable airbag that encapsulates it upon detecting a free fall maybe?

On a side note... if anyone is interested in what to invest in - look no further: drone and every conceivable industry that will be supporting the "drone world" are bound for nothing but growth.

Is anything totally safe? No. Can we minimize the risks? Yes.

Those safety systems can easily be overridden by the operator and as implemented are far from fool proof --- for example, the sensors could be only on the bottom and the forward facing camera --- not to the sides. Ultimately things fatigue and break; the props on those DJI drones are fairly inexpensive. There is that story about a drone crashing into the side of a building and then hitting someone, causing a concussion in Seattle recently. All it takes is an exposed prop taking out someone's eye.