A ‘Heads Up’ on Drone Safety

We all know that what goes up must come down. In the case of drones falling out of the sky, hopefully your head isn’t in the collision path. Drones are becoming increasingly popular for commercial and recreational purposes. According to a recent FAA report, this has sparked an “increase in accidents resulting in blunt impact or laceration injuries to bystanders.” The report, released late last month, generated a fair share of news coverage. It examines the dangers of drone collisions with people on the ground, the risk of injury and ways to reduce those risks. The good news, and probably most newsworthy conclusion, is that if a small drone were to hypothetically fall from the sky and collide with your head, you probably won’t die.

One of the tests conducted during the study included dropping a drone on the head of a crash test dummy. The drone used in the test represented a typical drone — a Phantom 3, which weighs about 2.7 pounds. Test results determined that a drone causes significantly less damage than a wood block or steel debris. Findings also showed that the “drag,” caused by air resistance slowed the drone down much more than the wood and steel. A USA Today article reported that while there was only a 0.01 to 0.03 percent chance of a serious head injury, but there was an 11-13 percent chance of a serious neck injury.

While the risk of serious injury might be lower than expected, both drone manufacturers and operators of remotely piloted aircrafts can continue to actively take responsibility for the risks by operating from a preventative and safety-focused perspective. A combination of proper training, education and reliable, secure command and control links (C2) can lead each side to a safer drone environment.

Knowing the Rules

Groups have formed with commercial drone safety in mind. Know Before You Fly is an organization dedicated to educating drone operators on the FAA guidelines for operation. They also offer resources on how to safely and responsibly operate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The FAA report also names Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), and the FAA as groups dedicated to educating hobbyist and commercial UAS users on the important requirements for piloting UAS. New drone operators who leverage the assortment of educational tools available can help champion the pursuit of responsible drone operations.

Building Drones with Reliability and Safety in Mind

In addition to training and education from the operator perspective, when the right command-and-control (C2) solution is in place, drone operations can become much more safe and reliable. Secure wireless data communication solutions that leverage data encryption capabilities, adhering to FIPS and AES standards, are already heavily relied on for mission-critical government and defense applications. Additionally, certain types of wireless solutions, like Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum Technologies (FHSS) are secure in their nature. For example, frequency-hopping techniques can leverage coordinated, rapid changes in radio frequencies that literally “hop” in the radio spectrum, thus evading detection and the potential of interference Some wireless products also can deliver multiple user-defined cryptography keys (as many as 32 user-defined keys in some cases), providing more robust link security by allowing the automatic and frequent changing of cryptographic keys. In addition to secure data, these solutions also offer distance. There are FHSS radio solutions that can transmit more than 60 miles Line-of-Sight (LOS). When the communication links are robust and prevent interference, they are much less likely to be jammed or disrupted, ultimately preventing drone performance issues (i.e., falling from the sky). This is a very important consideration because of the growing number of unmanned vehicles operating in industrial and commercial sectors today. With a secure and reliable wireless C2 link, these technical issues are substantially reduced.

Drones have opened the door for many hobbyist and commercial opportunities, but that also means there are more inexperienced operators. If an operator educates themselves on the FAA guidelines and safety procedures when operating a drone, and the manufacturers build in a secure and reliable C2 link that works over long distances, then both are taking the steps to decrease drone-related injuries. Although the FAA report shows the risk of serious injury and death is low, manufacturers and operators still need to keep safety a top priority.

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