What if you were amongst the wildly cheering audience at a race, and had to suddenly dive for cover as a drone copter with a camera, which had been hovering over the stands, suddenly veered into the crowd? That’s the situation the audience watching the Great Bull Run in Virginia found themselves in, with five people even getting injured. While UAV technology is transforming diverse sectors, such as agriculture, mining, and disaster management, concerns overs it safety remain.
Clearly, mishaps involving drones call for precautionary measures. For instance, a small helicopter drone almost crashed into a businessman in Manhattan recently, while making a video recording of skyscrapers from 300-400 feet above the ground. In another instance of greater magnitude, a UAV slammed into a cargo transport plane at the Mazar-e-Sharif air base in Afghanistan in 2010, nearly running over two persons.
With UAVs increasingly being employed for civilian operations, stringent safety standards are crucial. For example, quadcopters and recreational drones could crash as a result of a sudden shift in the wind direction or poor programming. In the US, licenses for hobbyists are issued on a case-by-case basis, without any formal training. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the US, however, approves UAVs by issuing an airworthiness certificate for civil aircraft, and a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) for public aircraft. The FAA also mandates filing of a detailed flight plan at least 30 days in advance. Similar precautionary legislation is required across the globe.
In many countries, current regulations stipulate that drones should fly below 400 feet, keep in line of sight of the operator, and not fly over populous areas. Since UAVs are increasingly being used in the Australian civil airspace for numerous applications, such as border security, bushfire monitoring, power line surveillance, and even whale tracking, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) of Australia is currently reviewing rules governing UAV flights.Other countries like the UK mandate that UAVs are made of readily destructible material, not harder than aluminum, to negate heavy impact. Elsewhere, the US Defense Department employs the army for ground-based solutions through radars or other sensors, and leverages navy and air force intelligence for onboard sense-and-avoid systems for aircraft that fly longer distances.
Although UAVs are smaller and less destructive than military drones, it is necessary that process and coding standards are strictly followed to avert accidents. In order to ensure the highest levels of safety, drones could utilize various measures, such as sensors to detect stationary and moving obstacles, a scanning laser-based LIDAR, ‘distance aware’ stereo imaging, and a collision detection computer.
As governments gradually realize the benefits of UAVs in civilian operations, they are mulling over implementing new safety guidelines and regulations.
Do you think UAVs will extend their presence in civil airspace, with new safety standards in place? Share your views with us in the comments section below.