Drone test

As drones are becoming a part of everyday life, the question about their safety rises. Researchers at Virginia Tech are studying the risks of bodily harm with drones striking people on the landing sites.

Drones can be used to carry out many services. For instance, Chipotle has used drones to deliver burritos to students at Virginia Tech. Drones can also be a recreational way for people to de-stress.

According to Steven Rowson, research assistant professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics at Virginia Tech who is also leading the injury bio-mechanics side of the research, the main purpose of the research is to understand the risks for drones to fly over people and the threat if they strike people on the ground. With the results of the testing, researchers will be able to make some changes and reduce the probability of life-threatening events.

“Drones are becoming part of everyday life ... so what we need to do is understand the risks associated with them flying over people and the event that there is failure," Rowson said. “If we understand how the drones interact with people, we can design interventions to reduce the probability of injury.”

Rowson says that the research team has already done some analytical work that includes calculating the risk flying drones over people. The research team used an instrumented crash test dummy to study the forces on the body on the off chance that a person is struck in the head with this airborne technology.

These studies can help the researchers predict the likelihood of severe injury. Rowson also mentioned that this is the same principle that is being used in automotive and sports fields to reduce the likelihood of concussions.

Rowson said that the team was impressive with the way that the trained pilot would maneuver a drone for test crashes. This intent was necessary to understanding the forces at different angles and altitudes. With accelerometers and load cells, Rowson says, "We can understand the forces on the body because if we know where the forces on the body are, we can assess likelihood of severe injury.”

"We are still working on the big picture in terms of understanding all different kinds of drones."

Considering the team's need for a large, open and controlled environment, Rowson's team chose the football training facility as its first testing site. With access to a spacious testing area, researchers are able to successfully fly the drone into the head and negate the effects of the wind to control the impact with the drone.


Rowson claimed that the testing in the football facility was only the first experimental set-up. In the future, the research team will test different kinds of drones in a real environment.

“We are still working on the big picture in terms of understanding all different kinds of drones. You know, some are big, some are small, some glide (and) some are really quadcopters,” Rowson said. “They all would interact with people in a different way. So we really need to do a lot more testing in this point. I think we took the first step towards that goal, and in the future we are going to continue to assess the different drone types, understand the risks by type."