The Literal Impact of UAVs: New Study Explores Risks of Injury from Drone Strikes

New research published by Virginia Tech (VT) aims to shed some light on the risks posed by collisions between UAS and people. The research, billed as the first peer-reviewed academic study of its kind, was conducted by the VT injury biomechanics team in cooperation with the VT UAS test site, and has been published in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering.

The study finds that the risks of injury vary significantly depending on the aircraft and fall scenario being tested, but that the risks generally go up as mass increases. The researchers also determined that injuries were likely to be more severe in a fall test than in a collision, since there is less chance that the force of impact will be dissipated by ancillary structures like rotors or rotor arms.

The authors of the study note that their results suggest that some smaller UAS may already be safe enough to operate over people. For others, because of the higher risk, additional testing and safety guidelines may be necessary.

The team behind the study does not view this as the last word in UAS safety testing. Instead, they are using these results to come up with a broader set of controlled experiments that they hope will guide the development of regulations for UAS operations over people.

This preliminary research represents an important step forward in the process of safely integrating UAS into the airspace. The group’s conclusions, that different aircraft and flight modes pose different risks, appear to validate the FAA’s “risk based” approach to regulating UAS, and also suggest that there are some operations that can likely be authorized quickly without posing substantial risks to people on the ground. Ulitimately, the team’s further work in proposing safer UAS designs should allow this promising technology to develop in even more exciting ways.

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