From the Dept of the Bleedin' Obvious... yes, drones hurt when they hit you in the head

Research suggests maybe the heavy ones should spend less time over people


Being hit in the head by a drone won't necessarily end in decapitation. Thanks to aeronautical boffins, we know now that there is a range of possible outcomes.

Not content to let the US Federal Aviation Administration ponder drone drubbings – something the agency did in April – researchers from Virginia Tech and State University have come to some very unsurprising conclusions about drone injury scenarios, albeit under the imprimatur of a peer-reviewed journal.

The research, titled "Ranges of Injury Risk Associated with Impact from Unmanned Aircraft Systems," published this month in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering, examines what happens when drones of varying weights – DJI Phantom 3, DJI Inspire 1, and DJI S1000+, ranging from 1.2kg (2.6lb) to 11kg (24.3lb) – fly into and are dropped on people's heads.

Incidents of this sort have been reported and presumably will continue. The US domestic drones accident database mostly documents property damage, but it also contains accounts of injuries. Last year, for example, a drone documenting a wedding in Windham, New Hampshire, crashed into the crowd, resulting in concussion, stitches and lawsuit.

The flying impact test was conducted on a Hybrid III test dummy at speeds ranging from 16 metres per second (36 miles per hour) to 22 metres per second (49 miles per hour). The drop impact test was conducted from a height of 5.5 metres (18 feet), using a powered-down drone (no rotating propellers).

The researchers – led by Steven Rowson, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics, and Stefan Duma, professor of engineering and interim director of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science – concluded that the consequences of being hit by a drone vary.

But a drone dropping on your head looks more likely to do harm than a drone delivered horizontally.

"The maximum risk of AIS 3+ injury associated with live flight tests was 11.6 per cent, while several falling impact tests estimated risks exceeding 50 per cent," the paper says. "Risk of injury was observed to increase with increasing UAS mass, and the larger models tested are not safe for operations over people in their current form."

Got that? Heavier drones can be expected to do more damage.

AIS here refers to the Abbreviated Injury Scale, which grades injury severity on a scale of 1 to 6, with 3 being serious and 6 being unsurvivable.

Live flight tests were unlikely – less than 5 per cent – to produce a concussion. Having a drone drop atop one's head however offers a more certain path to that outcome: The estimated risk of concussion for being beneath a 24-lb DJI S1000+ when it plummets was 100 per cent.

Despite the obviousness of the sentiment, the researchers rather coyly conclude that having heavy objects hovering overhead might be ill-advised.

"Given that many of the falling impact tests resulted in estimated risk of injury over 50 per cent, further consideration to the maximum mass threshold should be taken if UAS are to be permitted to operate over people," the paper says.

The researchers intend their data, like car crash tests, to help define what represents an acceptable level of risk for drones. A safety standard, they observe, "does not imply that products are injury-proof. People still die in car crashes and football players still occasionally die due to head injury."

So too will they die from drone collisions – to say nothing of drone strikes – just not very often, if the rules that emerge from this process end up being both effective and observed. ®

Similar topics

Narrower topics


Other stories you might like

  • VMware claims ‘bare-metal’ performance from virtualized Nvidia GPUs
    Is... is that why Broadcom wants to buy it?

    The future of high-performance computing will be virtualized, VMware's Uday Kurkure has told The Register.

    Kurkure, the lead engineer for VMware's performance engineering team, has spent the past five years working on ways to virtualize machine-learning workloads running on accelerators. Earlier this month his team reported "near or better than bare-metal performance" for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) and Mask R-CNN — two popular machine-learning workloads — running on virtualized GPUs (vGPU) connected using Nvidia's NVLink interconnect.

    NVLink enables compute and memory resources to be shared across up to four GPUs over a high-bandwidth mesh fabric operating at 6.25GB/s per lane compared to PCIe 4.0's 2.5GB/s. The interconnect enabled Kurkure's team to pool 160GB of GPU memory from the Dell PowerEdge system's four 40GB Nvidia A100 SXM GPUs.

    Continue reading
  • Nvidia promises annual datacenter product updates across CPU, GPU, and DPU
    Arm one year, x86 the next, and always faster than a certain chip shop that still can't ship even one standalone GPU

    Computex Nvidia's push deeper into enterprise computing will see its practice of introducing a new GPU architecture every two years brought to its CPUs and data processing units (DPUs, aka SmartNICs).

    Speaking on the company's pre-recorded keynote released to coincide with the Computex exhibition in Taiwan this week, senior vice president for hardware engineering Brian Kelleher spoke of the company's "reputation for unmatched execution on silicon." That's language that needs to be considered in the context of Intel, an Nvidia rival, again delaying a planned entry to the discrete GPU market.

    "We will extend our execution excellence and give each of our chip architectures a two-year rhythm," Kelleher added.

    Continue reading
  • Now Amazon puts 'creepy' AI cameras in UK delivery vans
    Big Bezos is watching you

    Amazon is reportedly installing AI-powered cameras in delivery vans to keep tabs on its drivers in the UK.

    The technology was first deployed, with numerous errors that reportedly denied drivers' bonuses after malfunctions, in the US. Last year, the internet giant produced a corporate video detailing how the cameras monitor drivers' driving behavior for safety reasons. The same system is now apparently being rolled out to vehicles in the UK. 

    Multiple camera lenses are placed under the front mirror. One is directed at the person behind the wheel, one is facing the road, and two are located on either side to provide a wider view. The cameras are monitored by software built by Netradyne, a computer-vision startup focused on driver safety. This code uses machine-learning algorithms to figure out what's going on in and around the vehicle.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022