Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has conducted the world’s first large scale crash testing of drones to determine the impact of a falling drone. The tests and their results are quite definitive – falling drones pose a definite risk to human life.
The test findings are expected to be presented in January 2018 at the AIAA Science and Technology Forum and Exposition in Florida.
Why the Study
The last few years has seen an exponential growth in the popularity and use of drones. What started out primarily as a hobby of a select few has quickly developed into popular culture, with ever growing use in the commercial world as well.
An estimated 800,000 drones were registered for flying in the US by early 2017. There were already more than 50,000 drones flown in Australia in early 2016. As per the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), the year to April 2017 saw 1,137 drone flying permits being filed for, up from 781 in the previous year. These numbers are only going to go up higher.
A major negative aspect associated with drones is the current minimal regulation/supervision. While the growth in drone usage has been phenomenal, there are still few users who really know how to ensure that they are flown safely.
The large number of these flying vehicles significantly increases the risk of an accident. While the navigational and collision avoiding capabilities of drones have improved substantially with the development of technology, one risk that is frequently ignored or people are mostly unaware of is the damage potential of a drone falling down from the sky.
The NTU study focused on the impact that varying weights of drones could have on landing on someone’s head from different altitudes. As per the local regulations in Singapore, drone operators do not need a permit to fly drones below 7kg, as long as they fly them at/below a height of 61m (above mean sea level).
600 drones were crashed on dummy heads at the university ground as part of the test. Drones weighing from 1kg to 9kg were dropped from heights of 3m to 15m and their impact recorded. This differed from the Virginia Tech injury research study in January of this year which aimed to determine what risk thresholds should be in the case of pilot control by flying directly into a test dummy, mimicking what might happen if a UAV accidentally hits someone.
The new studies show that at 61m height, even a small drone weighing only 250g can be potentially fatal on direct impact. However, with the growing commercial uses of drones and frequent flying in densely populated urban neighborhoods, these flying machines are unlikely to be extremely small or lightweight. Drones these days are fitted with high-end equipments such as cameras and sensors, while they may also carry other objects meant for deliveries.
The study was thus expanded to determine the impact in populated areas and how to reduce the chances of a drone falling on someone.
The researchers concluded that the risk of fatality can be reduced even in densely populated areas by charting out a flight path that takes the drones over buildings or covered pathways, thereby minimising the chances of a direct impact on the living population.
The researchers hope that the study will aid regulators in the future when they draw up regulations for managing drone operations. The data could also possibly be used in developing an air traffic system for drones. Research work on traffic management is already underway in many countries. Government / private agencies now have hard data to work with in determining the safety of drones and the surrounding people.