The FAA says 0.55 lbs is a safe drone size. That is to say, their drone registration requirements do not consider the smallest of drones to be of safety concern. Admitting that a quadcopter this small is unlikely to hurt you in a collision, is the designation smaller than it needs to be?
Head injury is a good place to focus our attention, but there are certainly other ways a drone can hurt a human – trust me, I know.
Why trust Drone Rush?
I’ve been a fan of flight since a young age; while I’ve had few opportunities at the helm of manned aircraft, the hours on my fleet of drones continue to grow. I enjoy putting cameras into the sky, silky smooth aerial imagery makes me happy. My goal is to help all pilots enjoy flight legally and safely.
Before we dive in, please understand that we have performed no medical research of our own. We are not medical professionals, obviously, and we plan to talk theory more than actual personal safety. That said, we will do everything we can to steer you in the right direction.
The argument of size
While there is not, actually, an argument of size going on, the FAA’s 0.55 lb drone weight limit requiring registration has been a topic of discussion. Several research experiments say that a normal human head can withstand impact from a drone much larger than the FAA’s weight, and the safety of manned aircraft is at little risk.
Keep it small
The FAA has relaxed rules for drones that weigh less than 0.55lbs, that’s less than 250 grams. Remember, the rules of the sky still apply, but you do not need to register these tiny drones before you can fly for fun. Some of these small drones will also be exempt from the new Remote ID rules.
The size of your drone does make a difference. It would be wrong of me to suggest that a smaller or larger machine is easier to fly. That said, there is no doubt that a nano drone will cause far less damage to people or property than a big camera drone.
No matter what size one deems safe for collision with humans, 0.55 lbs all but guarantees no hospital visits.
The research is in, multiple studies conclude that a drone somewhere in the ballpark of 2.2 up to 2.6 lbs can hit you in the head without serious injury. Some say 2.2 kg is safe as well, that’s nearly five pounds. We only know of one way to confirm this, but we’re not going there, sorry, we’ll just have to trust these studies.
Considering multiple scenarios, from lateral collision to having the drone drop out of the sky, a two and a half pound drone won’t kill you. Or so they say. Regardless drone weight, do be aware of the other injury factors, in particular the spinning blades that we call propellers.
To be clear, these reports use the term “catastrophic head injury.” We’re not talking about minor bumps, cuts and bruises – you’ll get those – we’re talking brain injury and death. If it can’t kill you, it’s safe, or so the argument goes.
Why does it matter?
If you are wondering what we’re getting at, it’s pretty simple, the FAA has a rule stating you cannot fly over top of people. This is a blanket rule to keep everyone safe.
What if this rule could be removed for your smaller drone? What if you could fly over top of people without either doing a bunch of prep or getting into trouble?
DJI is one such entity making a case for larger machines being categorized as low-risk. Flight over people is only a part of the mission, of course, seeking to establish a higher weight that respects all manner of safety in flight.
Flight over people is an enormous hurtle for our future of passenger flight, drone delivery services and more. Emergency services and law enforcement alone could benefit from drone services, saving lives and protecting our streets.
Hand in hand with the flight-over-people rule is the line-of-sight rule. One of the core reasons you must always keep your drone visible to your naked eye is so you don’t fly over people. Relaxing the rule will trickle through some of the other rules, making it easier for drone pilots, or autonomous drones, to take to the sky.
It would be silly to imagine that the only thing companies and manufacturers are doing for safety is crashing drones into dummies. Reducing crashes is really the name of the game.
We’ve seen companies that make parachutes for drones. Additional propellers reduce the possibility of a crash, such as the hexacopters that can lose one propeller without issue, two propellers and continue flying, and depending on which are lost, I think even three propellers can bring a hexacopter to the ground without catastrophic results.
A balanced drone with no power to the propellers can soar to the ground. The propellers end up spinning backwards while the resistance of the motors causes enough drag to slow the descent. Some drones have taken this further, designing the propeller arms to make the entire drone spin like a propeller in the event of a fall.
Related reading: Drone fall safety ideas
A combination of multiple safety techniques can go a long way for drone safety. General public acceptance of regular drone operations depends on it.
In the end, all we want to do is fly our drones. Wouldn’t it be great to have fewer restrictions on where and when we can fly?
Safety is the number one factor behind all of the drone laws. Safety for people on the ground and safety for people in the air. You are told to fly below 400 feet because helicopters fly at 500 feet. Don’t fly if you’ve been drinking and so on. These rules were designed assuming that a failure in the air will result in harm to a human. We can take measures to prevent said harm, but for today, the topic is what weight of drone is considered to be dangerous.
Do you agree with the idea of relaxing laws on slightly larger drones, or is the current ‘better safe than sorry’ approach good enough for you?
Frequently Asked Questions
As with most things in life, drones are only as dangerous as the operator’s actions. Admittedly, spinning propellers are a hazard, and the higher up a drone flies, or the faster it is able to fly horizontally, the more potential there is for harm if something goes wrong. Just like your car, if you follow the rules and best practices, the likelihood of harm is minimal.
Check out this list of common drone mistakes to help you get started flying safely.
For the most part, no authority cares if you crash your drone, however, if you cause property damage or injure someone, things change. Part 107 operations have 10 days to report to the FAA any crash that causes $500 or more of property damage, or any harm to humans. For hobby flights, there are no actual drone laws on the matter, instead your general personal liability comes into play. Perhaps your home insurance will cover the damage or any medical bills, if not, maybe check out drone specific insurance.
There are use-cases where sub-250 gram drones (that’s drones under 0.55 lbs,) can be exempt from Remote ID requirements, but please expect to need a compliant drone, or to attach a compliant Remote ID module. Please stay tuned for more info, the final rules and requirements have been published, but the technology to enable remote ID is not yet agreed upon.