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

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 …

Anonymous Coward

Can they research "Do bears shit in the woods?"

Enquiring minds want to know.

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Currently, they're tied up with research being conducted at the Vatican.

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Anonymous Coward

I suspect they're punting for an Ig Nobel award :)

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Currently, they're tied up with research being conducted at the Vatican

why? there's no bears there /s

Incidentally tied up in the Vatican is a phrase with "problematic" written all over it.

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Holmes

Can they research "Do bears shit in the woods?"

Enquiring minds want to know.

If there's a grant involved, it should be researched. But I would think only if they're not polar bears...unless climate change results is forests way up north. Now to go find some grant money.

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It may seem obvious that heavier things cause more hurt, but unless these studies are done using independent and rigorous methods and published for peer review we end up with glaring pre-determined and farcical reports like the recent one made to order for the UK government, and excellent critique of which of here: Drone Collision Study

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Yup, we need a view on the risks profiles and where the cut-off weight is between "acceptable risk" and "unacceptable risk". Without this study, some random number would be plucked out of the air and made law and argued about for years. With this study, the lawmakers can say "under these rules there is only an x% chance of serious injury".

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Anonymous Coward

Slightly biased audience there, making matters far more complex than they are.

It's simple: if a drone is present, there is a likelihood of damage, the severity may be undefined but FAA tends to err on the safe side, which is why flying is generally safe. If there is no drone present, no such risk exists. Debating how MUCH damage a drone causes is a specious attempt at sidetracking the debate from the core logic that the potential for damage only exists when a drone is present.

Ergo, a drone should stay the f*ck away from the trajectory of any aircraft that isn't stationary on the ground. There really is no argument, none whatsoever, for endangering those in the aircraft, however slight anyone deems the risk.

The rest is detail.

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Coming next - some idiot straps an ultra powerful laser to a drone and blinds pilots with it until they crash into it.

This started as a joke, but actually I can genuinely foresee some prat doing that.

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Paris Hilton

"unless these studies are done"

And it is particularly important they are done where the prevailing attitude is that "it is okay so long as it isn't proven harmful" versus "it is not okay unless proven safe".

And, of course, we should always be making decisions based on fact than what we simply believe to be the case.

"My dad smoked 40 Capstan Full Strength a day for 80 years" and "we have seen no conclusive evidence that smoking leads to lung cancer" caused a lot of unnecessary suffering.

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You are assuming that lawmakers will take the time to actually read or have staff read these reports instead of taking what the lobbyist says as gospel.

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"It may seem obvious that heavier things cause more hurt, but unless these studies are done using independent and rigorous methods and published for peer review we end up with glaring pre-determined and farcical reports like the recent one made to order for the UK government, and excellent critique of which of here: Drone Collision Study"

Not only that, but just because a general conclusion seems obvious, that doesn't mean gaining more knowledge about the specifics isn't useful. If we'd just decided that driving into a wall at high speed hurts and given up there, cars would be a hell of a lot dangerous than they are now. But because we've spent an awful lot of time and effort determining exactly how much it hurts at exactly what speeds, and what the mechanisms for that hurt are, we've been able to come up with all kinds of clever ways to mitigate the risks, as well as knowing where restrictions are needed when the risk can't be suitably reduced.

For drones, sure, having a drone drop on your head probably hurts. But is there a size below which it's unlikely to do anything serious, or a speed above which it's especially dangerous? Might there be design features that can reduce damage done in case of a collision, or which can reduce the chance of particularly dangerous events happening? Just blindly saying that drones can hurt therefore ban them all makes no more sense than saying we should ban cars because humans can't survive travelling above a certain speed (originally claimed by some to be no more than 40-50 mph, and yes, simply travelling not even crashing at that speed). Without knowing the details of what the actual risks are and what might be able to be done about them, it's simply not possible to make any sensible decisions about how to regulate something. "There's obviously some risk, so ban everything" is not a sensible decision.

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Anonymous Coward

Just blindly saying that drones can hurt therefore ban them all

And where, pray, was that stated anywhere? The only (IMHO rather valid) observation exist that they can be as dangerous as any other piece of kit and should thus be used with care. The issue is that that is something that evidently some owners still need to have explained to them.

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"Ergo, a drone should stay the f*ck away from the trajectory of any aircraft that isn't stationary on the ground. There really is no argument, none whatsoever, for endangering those in the aircraft, however slight anyone deems the risk.

The rest is detail."

I think you missed a minor detail. The subject of the research paper was about the effects of flying and falling drones of three specific models, onto people on the ground.

Your other assertion that "if a drone is present, there is a likelihood of damage" is a bit spurious if technically correct. I'd used "possibility" rather than "likelihood" since possibility implies that an accident may happen more most likely won't, while "likelihood" implies far more certainty of an accident occurring. Even assuming that reported accidents are only 10% of the total of actual accidents, compared to the number of drone flights, the odds are pretty small of an accident occurring.

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Evidence Based Policy Making

"No, not heard of that."

HMG

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What I want to know is what Radio Controlled Model Aircraft are doing in "Emergent Tech". Shouldn't you be covering more recent inventions, like maybe the transistor?

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Anonymous Coward

So, to make this valid

they should have tested with a variety of ballistic or bladed payloads just to make sure. I suspect even relatively light ones would do more damage that way - just to even things up of course...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: So, to make this valid

You must mean the Drones that Amazon etc are using/planning to use?

What happens when the drone operator can't find the delivery address and it is close to the end of their shift?

Will it be the start of a game of 'Bombs Away' and woe betide anyone unlucky to be the target?

Those will non enclosed rotors are also dangerous. I see that there was nothing about 'getting your eye put out' in the article...

I wouldn't be surprised to see a big increase in people wearing eye patches before the lawyers get all drones banned on H&S grounds.

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Although paradoxically...

... being hit by a Hellfire missile launched from your friendly neighbourhood drone often doesn't hurt at all. (Unless you're unlucky enough to be left partially alive).

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Anonymous Coward

The drop impact test was conducted from a height of 5.5 metres

a typical height drones do / should / will fly at, and drop from

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Facepalm

Do modern drones plummet?

Genuine question, and not explained in the research (as far as I can see) - is dropping an unpowered drone a realistic test? I would have thought the larger, "smarter" drones would try to auto-land to avoid damage to themselves and the owners wallet, and that total power failure in operation was unlikely.

"Ouch - my head" rather than the helicopter icon --->

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Re: Do modern drones plummet?

It has happened, and will happen again. See for example this video of a downhill skier nearly taken out by a drone.

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Alert

Re: Do modern drones plummet?

Possible causes for sudden loss of lift:

- Battery malfunction

- Short circuit

- Software bug

- Loss of rotor*

- Operator error*

- ...

* Some, but not all, UAV can sustain flight with three of four rotors, and most prevent sudden downward acceleration - but not all.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Do modern drones plummet?

I guess you have to do tests at this level of failure first and then introduce factors that reduce the likelihood of it happening later in the analysis.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Do modern drones plummet?

And, erm, rapid unscheduled disassembly...

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Re: Do modern drones plummet?

Uhmm, that's not true. A quad (4 props) goes down if it loses a rotor, without question. A hex loses yaw control with one out and depending on which one either goes down or loses most control authority with 2 out. An Octo (8 rotors) is fully controllable with 1 out, can sustain some 2 out scenario's with loss of yaw and MIGHT keep flying with 3 out. Above that we're not talking common multirotor UAV systems anymore.

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Ban them!

When dropped from 5.5metres a drone can cause injury so ban them, alo g with anything else that can be dropped from a similar height; boxes of bananas, babies, bowling balls, anvils or politicians, they can all e dangerous.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Ban them!

I agree, although actually it's safe to drop a politician, because being full of hot air.......

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Ban them!

No, I think any drone operator acting unsafely must become a mandatory test subject of drone studies. Surely, if they're that harmless, they won't mind.

There is a safe way to work with these toys/tools (depending which one t is an your view), and an unsafe way. There are plenty of professional and amateurs demonstrating this can be done safely, but it appears we need proper rules to start weeding out the idiots.

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Re: Ban them!

Surely the effective benefits of a (preferably) terminal down-splat of politicians would effectively supersede the potential, and therefore theoretical, risk to an unwary public?

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Re: Ban them!

The thing about boxes, babies, bowling balls etc. is they generally aren't found hovering five and a half meters above people's heads, where as drones often are.

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Re: Ban them!

Actually, I for one am all for dropping politicians from 5.5 meters but I also think we should try dropping them from increasing heights until we find out what height starts knocking some sense into them.

That way, anyone who files to run for office can immediately be taken outside and dropped from that height before their campaign starts.

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Re: Ban them!

I agree, although actually it's safe to drop a politician, because being full of hot air.......

Well, there's the other type that is full of male, bovine excrement. They tend to explode on impact and make a bigger mess than in Congress/Parliament*.

*With few exceptions, all countries have one of these esteemed offices but the occupants all seem to be the same.

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Re: Ban them!

"The thing about boxes, babies, bowling balls etc. is they generally aren't found hovering five and a half meters above people's heads, where as drones often are."

Babies and pop singers comes to mind. The other items, and more, coming to an area near you Real Soon Now, courtesy of Amazon.

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Not a great comparison

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."

People using roads and (American, presumably) football players accept significant risk because they benefit from the activity. The risk they'll tolerate from things that have little to no personal benefit to them - like drones buzzing over their heads - are much, much lower.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not a great comparison

I know quite a number of people who could comfortably take out a drone with a well aimed cricket ball if it came too close. Even my own son already has quite the aim, and a properly bowled cricket ball carries enough kinetic energy to make a mess of your average drone (not to mention one launched with a bat, but there's no sport in that :) ).

I'm pretty sure the same is possible in the US with well pitched baseballs.

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Forget peer reviewed

This is why Mythbusters needs to come back.

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Joke

Re: Forget peer reviewed

Oh sure... it's all for the science... and not for the ogling of Kari Byron.

...

Bring back MythBusters!

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Re: Forget peer reviewed

Why can't we have both, Colman? Science and ogling of Kari Byron.

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Re: Forget peer reviewed

"This is why Mythbusters needs to come back."

Well, they did a sort of "Americas Next Top Mythbusters" series. No idea if it will ever evolve into another actual series of Mythbusters. (Actually, if it ever does, I suspect it will be "updated" and "down wiff da youff" and end up being a one season wonder)

The Mythbusters "B" team, Kari, Tory and Grant did a sort of Mythbusters show called The White Rabbit Project on Netflix last December if you need a fix in the mean time.

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Re: Forget peer reviewed

Mythbusters did an episode on drones in their last season. Was about if one could kill you by slicing your jugular vein admittedly. The general type of drone has plastic blades and was obviously ineffectual at causing any harm. Their six rotor professional camera drone uses metal blades on the rotors. In the super slo-mo, even the metal blades tended to just stop without causing significant damage. One blade did actually make a cut deep enough to make the test dummy bleed, but even that was fairly superficial.

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I've said it before and I'll say it again.

Operating a drone. ANY drone imho over a person other than yourself is unacceptable. Yes, even the tiny little micro drones. Because there is no need, and no excuse, to ever risk the chance of hurting someone else with a toy. And if it's a professional tool, you'll have to make the arrangement to prevent people from getting "in the firing line". Just like we don't allow people without hard-hats and steel toed boots into construction zones or unauthorized people within reach of camera cranes/booms

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I've said it before and I'll say it again.

That's a bit too aggressive. Risk always exists, but you can minimise it by not being monumentally stupid. Following your approach means we should ban kites for kids as well because the rest of the buggers always escape to go and stand right under it if you're not paying attention.

In short, it's live and LET live - it's the latter part that some drone operators need a bit of help with. I don't buy into the notion that opening the package of a new drone will somehow turn someone instantly into a drooling idiot incapable of rational thought beyond "must fly this thing, anywhere", but I do think there needs to be more work done on educating users on risks they ought to avoid.

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Anonymous Coward

We already have a scenario where people operate potentially dangerous machinery which creates risks for bystanders - cars on the road. We mitigate this risk by making registration and third party insurance on vehicles compulsory, and enforce severe punishment on anyone who doesn't comply (driving without insurance).

I don't see any reason why drones and other RC aircraft should be any different. The yearly insurance premiums for the tiny toy drones* would be correspondingly tiny, the bigger drones will need heftier premiums, and total pillocks who make a habit of crashing their toys into people will end up paying higher and higher premiums (and potential prosecution for criminal negligence offences) as a result.

*Presumably there could be some cut off point where drones below a certain weight would not need registration or insurance - the smallest toys only weigh a few grams.

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Anonymous Coward

So if they are so small they can only take your eye out but can't kill you that's all right then ! I seem to recall a youtube video of the worlds most dangerous toys (may have to find it again) and the small ones would not rank there.

TBH though many childs toys can be hazardous to both premises and personnel when travelling at speed - any parent will tell you this, and tantrums and/or experimentation can launch articles violently and without regard to the surrounding topology and its fragility...

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Anonymous Coward

Of course it's not all right, but that doesn't make it sensible to call for mandatory insurance cover for all things* which might hurt if they hit you in the eye.

If you were going to set a cutoff point above which a drone would have to be insured you might want to do some work to quantify the injury risk of different weight classes of drones to people below to inform the decision of where that cutoff point should be. Much like this study, in fact...

* e.g. small toy drones, coins, pebbles, withering looks etc.

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Black Helicopters

All about the Benjamins.

How is this any different than a hobbyist pranging the powerlines with their RC airplane? Or little Timmy hitting dad in the nerds with his Christmas helicopter toy? If you hurt someone or damage something you are liable for the damage and/or in the clink for assault, manslaughter, or whatever you did. Simple as pie. Easy as cake. Have a nice day. Hope you were insured.

You don't need more laws to cover something for which there are already clear laws.

Oh, right, but that has no fancy buzzwords to get more research and/or campaign funding.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: All about the Benjamins.

Most drones have a range (both horizontal and vertical) that makes them more dangerous than the average toy. RC airplanes are surely as much dangerous as drones, but because they are more difficult to fly, and aren't usually used to watch or film people, or hover above them, there's a better chance they are used by skilled people and over empty areas.

Yes, if you damage someone you're responsible and may be forced to pay - but I would like to avoid permanent damages or death, even if the idiot who caused it later faces the consequences and insurance pays.

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Pirate

"not safe for operations over people in their current form"

Presumably they will be safe for operations over people once the people have been improved?

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Banned

In Germany there are very strict rules about flying drones.

You can't fly them in residential areas (invasion of privacy) or built up areas and industrial areas (risk of injury / damage), you can't fly them near airports.

You can fly them at airfields designated for model aircraft and you can use them in open land (fields).

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