Federal Aviation rules prohibit commercial drones from flying over people. But last week, Federal Aviation Administration granted the first waiver of its kind to CNN, allowing it to fly the aircraft over crowds for newsgathering. Drone safety remains a concern as more unpiloted vehicles take to the skies.
CNN got the waiver after it demonstrated to FAA’s satisfaction, that there’ no risk of injury from its one-and-a-half-pound drone. The move comes just as Virginia Tech has finished a drone safety study of its own.
Tech did not test CNN’s exact model, but it did look at drones of similar size and concluded, there’s very little risk of injury if you were to get hit by one, but…
“As you add more mass and velocity you add more energy and you add greater risk of injury.”
Virginia Tech engineering professor Stefan Duma leads the Injury Biomechanics drone testing team. “So, the heavier drones, the ones we had that were over 11 kg, there’s a very high risk of injury.”
But drones are clearly coming to air space near you. So, Duma’s team is working with companies around the world to design safety into them
“What we’re suggesting, is that injury risk be part of the design, just like injury risk is part of the design of an automobile. (Just as) when we add air bags and seat belts and all kind of protective counter measures, we can do similar things, in terms of foam and padding structures, within the drone, so that in the case, if there is an impact, the risk is as low as possible,” Duma says.
The Federal Aviation Administration estimates there will be nearly half a million commercial drones in the U.S. by 2021.