The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), along with a group of universities, conducted a study to determine the risks associated with flying unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) over people. The group of universities included the University of Alabama-Huntsville; Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University; Mississippi State University; and the University of Kansas, through the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE). ASSURE’s research began back on September 20, 2016. Upon completion of the studies, the FAA, personnel from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), and other subject matter experts conducted a peer review of the findings.

The team reviewed techniques to assess the most significant threats to people on the ground—blunt force trauma, penetration injuries and lacerations. The team also reviewed over 300 publications from the automotive industry and consumer battery market, toy standards and the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s (AUVSI) UAS database. Lastly, the team conducted crash tests, dynamic modeling, and analyses related to kinetic energy, energy transfer and crash dynamics.

The research indicated that multi-rotor drones fall more slowly than the same mass of metal due to higher drag on the drone, and that lithium batteries (which power many small drones), need a unique standard to ensure safety. The team recommended additional research to refine the metrics developed through their study. A few suggestions were to develop a simplified test method to characterize potential injury and validate a proposed standard and models using potential injury severity test data.

ASSURE’s second phase of testing will begin in June 2017 and will study the risks of collision with aircraft.

To read the full study and report, click here.