More Than 600 Drones Were Crashed in the Name of UAV Safety Research

How dangerous is a direct impact with a drone? Nanyang Technological University crashed 600 UAVs to find answers.

Nanyang Technological University

Once drone delivery becomes the norm, having one whir by overhead is likely to be a common occurrence. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the only requirement for making that a reality was developing a reliable autonomous guidance system, and the ability to carry certain payloads, but there are far more considerations to take into account. At the very top of that list is safety. What happens if a drone fails mid-flight? How serious of an injury would collision with a unmanned aerial vehicle result in? Fortunately, professionals are on the case. 

According to The Straits Times, Andy Koh, researcher and program manager at Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) Air Traffic Management Research Institute, has thrown himself into this particular aspect of the drone world with full force, crashing more than 600 UAVs in an effort to gather as much crash-related data as possible. 

Companies like Amazon are aware of the potential safety issues their future delivery drones could raise. The tech giant has been filing UAV-related patents as if the company’s future depended on it, and surely, that’s not an entirely unreasonable approach. If the biggest American online retailer isn’t prepared to adapt to drone deliveries at the snap of a finger, it could hurt it. 

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Hence, Amazon’s drone-chute patent, or the self-dismantling drone patent. Protective safety measures must be put in place before the skies are filled with flying robots carrying heavy payloads above the heads of millions of citizens. While a study at Virginia Tech recently studied potential head and neck injury via drone, Andy Koh’s data set is larger and will only add to our understanding of drone accidents.

The study, led by researcher and professor Low Kin Huat of NTU’s School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, focused on analyzing a drone’s impact from above, with varying weight and from various heights, as well as side impacts to the head. According to Digital Trends, the 10-person research team destroyed circa 600 drones in the process, with the UAVs in question weighing between 2.2 pounds and 19.8 pounds. 

The Straits Times reports that overhead impacts were tested from heights between nine feet and 45 feet and that Koh claimed the collected data would help develop a more refined air traffic system for UAVs, which the local Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore began developing last December. 

Here's a short video demonstrating the overhead and side impact aspects of the study, courtesy of Nanyang Technological University, via The Straits Times.

Perhaps most shocking is the research team’s finding that a direct impact from a drone weighing 250 grams and flying from the local altitude restriction of 61 miles could kill someone. “But you can’t do much with a drone that weights only that much. No deliveries, nothing,” said Koh. Hence, heavier drones that’ll inevitably be chosen for deliveries would be able to cause even more damage. 

Thankfully, the findings of this study will be presented at the AIAA Science and Technology Forum and Exposition in Kissimmee, Florida next month. The forum will take place between Jan. 8 to 12, 2018, with this Aerial contributor possibly in attendance. Stay tuned for more results uncovered by this study.