Inside Unmanned Systems provides actionable business intelligence to decision-makers and influencers operating within the global UAS community. Features include analysis of key technologies, policy/regulatory developments and new product design.
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AIR RESEARCH 56 unmanned systems inside February/March 2017 Researchers at Virginia Tech are looking at how much injury risk small UAS pose to people and what can be done to mitigate that risk. by Renee Knight Photos courtesy of Virginia Tech W hile operators do their best to safely f ly their drones, there's always a chance the systems might crash— and that could lead to an injury for anyone who happens to be on the ground below. The FA A's (Federal Aviation Administra- tion's) Part 107 restricts f lights over people (unless a waiver has been granted) to avoid such situations, but many unmanned aircraft systems operators would love to see this re- striction lifted to make more applications pos- sible. Before that can happen, researchers and other industry leaders need to understand the risk involved and find a way to mitigate any injuries an accident could cause, an area there isn't a lot of data for thus far, said Mark Blanks, the director of the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP). A few months ago, researchers at Virginia Tech began to look at the injury risk small UAS pose if they do crash into a person. MAPP is partner- ing with Virginia Tech's College of Engineering for this project, gaining expertise from bio- Evaluating Injury Risk mechanics professors who've been assessing head injury and concussion risk in car ac- cidents and sports for the past 10 years. For now, the UAS research will focus on the risk for potential head and face injuries, including lacerations. The FAA is working to develop regulations that could allow certain small UAS to f ly over people, depending on the injury risk they pose. This research could prove invaluable in making f lights over people possible, which is key for a variety of commercial UAS applica- tions from package and medicine delivery to news coverage. "It's critical to understand that risk and it's really critical to understand how to mitigate it," said Blanks, who chairs an industry stan- dards subcommittee developing guidance for safe f lights over people. "Certain class of UAS won't hurt at all when they hit someone, and we want to help establish what that threshold is. And if it's going to hit you and hurt you, what mitigations can we put in place. Is it a parachute? An airbag? We want to operate in a manner to prevent injuries, but if a UAS did hit a person you want to have a way to reduce the energy there." The Research So Far The team recently completed the first experi- mental field testing, said Steven Rowson, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics who is leading the injury bio- mechanics side of the research. This involved crashing a drone into an instrumented test dummy to measure force and movement, tell- ing researchers what forces the drone is putting on the person, or in this case the dummy. If re- searchers can characterize those forces, they Research associates Abigail Tyson, left, and Bethany Rowson monitor the data feed as a small UAS is flown into a crash test dummy instrumented with sensors.