The FAA recently published the results of a study that was designed to evaluate the risks of serious injury to a pedestrian resulting from a drone collision. Copies of the links to the FAA press release as well as the full study results are included at the bottom of this article.
The research group on this project, the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE), began its research in September 2015. The FAA’s ultimate purpose in undertaking this research will be to evaluate the relative risks of ultimately permitting drone flights over people. These types of drone flights are currently prohibited by 14 CFR Part 107, unless an operational waiver is obtained from the FAA.
TheASSURE team used a plethora of research and resources to evaluate and identify the significant threats related to a drone impact: (1) blunt force trauma; (2) lacerations; and (3) penetration injuries. Promisingly, the research revealed that multi-rotor drones fall more slowly than the same mass of other materials, such as metal, due to higher drag on the drone. The ASSURE report also contains two videos-- one which shows a comparison between sUAS and steel impact on a crash test dummy, and one which shows a comparison between sUAS and wood impact on a crash test dummy. Both of these videos reflect that the impact of the wood and steel have a significantly greater potential for head and neck injuries than that of a drone. The report reflects that the net outcome of each of the respective tests is that it appears that the sUAS retains more energy following impact, which results in less energy being transferred to the head and neck of the crash test dummy. The report also identified certain hazardous drone features, such as unprotected rotor blades.
Importance for the Drone Insurance Industry
Although this is decidedly preliminary research and, in fact, the team recommended further research for purposes including “developing a simplified test method to characterize potential injury,” it is certainly a good first step toward the ultimately integration of more widespread drone technology into our National Airspace. Moreover, this important research, when it is concluded, will also be helpful in other areas of the drone industry - particularly the drone insurance industry. For companies offering drone insurance, or for companies considering purchasing drone insurance, the relative risks of injury to pedestrians in the event that a drone is involved in an accident are important considerations when evaluating the appropriate liability coverage. Further, should a claim be made against a drone policy related to a pedestrian injury, these sorts of biomechanical studies should be considered in the defense of the claim.
A link to the FAA press release can be found here:
The ASSURE research and video file reflecting impacts with crash test dummies are available here: