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Catapult experiment shows drone collision danger

Wed 13 Apr 2016

In an experiment at the Aalborg University’s Drone Research Lab, scientists have created a motorized catapult with a high-speed camera, to record what happens when a small hobby drone collides with a person or object. The experiment shows the dangers that even small drones may pose to people or property by changing speed and force to simulate collision damage using a specially-devised catapult.

The initial catapult runs used a pork roast as a stand-in for a human being. Using the catapult, a carbon-propeller drone collided with the roast at a force and velocity well within the parameters of a standard hobby drone. The result, which can be viewed on their YouTube channel, shows a slow-motion view of the drone propeller piercing the skin of the roast and driving forward several inches beneath the skin.

The catapult, which was created specifically for drone damage assessment experiments, is built of aluminum, three meters long, and powered by an electric motor. It can accelerate a small, 1kg drone up to 15 meters per second, and the resulting impact is then filmed with a high-speed camera. The researchers plan to continue their run of experiments and eventually upgrade the catapult to simulate larger drones and higher-speed impacts.

The danger of drone collisions is growing as the sales of drones worldwide continues to increase. In 2015, world sales of drones (both for commercial and private use) reached 4.3 million units, a market of over $1.5 billion. That number represents a 167% jump from 2013 to 2015 sales. As drones become more prevalent worldwide and are distributed into the hands of novice users, the risk of collision rises. Knowing what could happen in the event of a drone collision with a human being will be important for medical professionals to know how to treat injuries.

“The first attempts are interesting because they clearly show what could happen when a regular hobby drone hits a human being. But it’s too early to conclude anything,” emphasizes Anders la Cour-Harbo, director of Aalborg University’s Drone Research Lab. “Particularly in the tests simulating collisions with people, it is necessary to do it absolutely right and verify that the results are reliable. The university is thus working with Aalborg University Hospital to conduct experiments that can help us better understand how dangerous drones really are.”


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