DJI study suggests little risk from raising drone weight limit 4-times higher

DJI Phantom 4 Pro+
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
How big does an out-of-control drone have to be to cause damage? Bigger than you think, at least according to a new white paper from the Chinese drone manufacturer DJI. The paper, published today, suggests that the FAA’s 250-gram weight limit is too low — and that a limit four times that would be a better standard for classifying a drone as safe.

FAA regulations allow unmanned drones to be flown without registration if they weigh 250 grams, or about 0.55 pounds, or less. For commercial flight, pilots must go through a rigorous certification process to fly a drone above 250 grams.

DJI’s research suggests that unmanned aircraft systems as large as 2.2 kg., or about 4.85 pounds,pose little risk. The company’s drone lineup contains a wide range of sizes, with the folding Mavic Pro weighing in at 743 grams or 1.64 pounds.

The current FAA regulations were set in conformity with Registration Task Force (RTF) research from 2015. “The RTF had only three days to decide how much a drone should weigh to require registration, and RTF members — including myself — unanimously set a 250-gram limit for registration purposes only, not for safety rulemaking,” said the paper’s co-author, Brendan Schulman, DJI vice president of policy and legal affairs. “Nevertheless, regulators around the world are using the FAA’s 250-gram limit as a safety standard for the lowest-risk drones, despite its flaws. We hope our white paper spurs more detailed evaluation for better and more accurate rulemaking.”

DJI’s research suggests that the data the RTF had to find on short notice is outdated and flawed, including a 50-year-old equation that suggests an object with 80 Joules of kinetic energy would have a 30-percent fatality rate if it came in contact with a person. At the time, DJI says, there wasn’t enough research to the contrary, so the committee unanimously approved the 250-gram limit.

However, DJI suggests that using the same equation as the kinetic energy of a missile or actual aircraft isn’t accurate for a plastic drone with no fuel source to spark an explosion. Instead, DJI factored in a more specific calculation for just how much kinetic energy transfer a drone would create on impact using variables on where the drone might hit, as well as drag and the energy transfer on impact.

DJI also factored in more variables, such as the pilot’s skill level, probability of technical failure, and not just the population density of the area, but the amount of unsheltered pedestrians at any given time.

Most drone bodies are made from plastic foam or carbon fiber and will break on impact, and without fuel, there wouldn’t be an explosion on impact, DJI says. Worst case scenario, DJI suggests, the drone is falling straight out of the sky or flying horizontally at maximum speed.

“In its haste, the RFT had to use shortcuts and assumptions that are not well-matched to the characteristics of a UAS,” the report reads. “By making this additional ‘reality check’ adjustment to the calculation, we can conclude that the RTF’s calculation of mass for its cutoff should have been over four times higher.”

DJI’s research suggests that a more accurate “lowest risk” drone category would be drones weighing 2.2 kg. or less, but that further analysis is needed. “Given the faulty assumptions that underlie the selection of 250 grams, regulators should be hesitant to adopt a 250-gram UAS category without conducting their own rigorous safety analysis based on the desired policy goals,” the white paper concludes. “Review of the RTF’s work shows that its selection of 250 grams is far too low, and far too conservative, to be used to create a lowest-risk UAS regulatory category. Based on a similar approach to risk estimation, with adjustments for real-world factors, we propose 2.2 kg as the upper threshold of a ‘lowest-risk’ UAS category.”

Emerging Tech

Want to know which drones are flying near you? There’s an app for that

Want to know what that mysterious drone buzzing over your head is up to? A new system developed by AirMap, Google Wing, and could soon tell you -- via a map on your phone.
Emerging Tech

Drones: New rules could soon allow flights over people and at night

With commercial operators in mind, the U.S. government is looking to loosen restrictions on drone flights with a set of proposals that would allow the machines greater freedom to fly over populated areas and also at night.

Apple AirPods may be used to spy on conversations, but please don’t

Apple added Live Listen to the AirPods through the iOS 12 update last September, to help users with minor hearing issues. However, a viral tweet is suggesting that the feature may be used to eavesdrop on the conversations of other people.
Emerging Tech

Black holes devour nearby stars and spew brilliant X-rays during outburst phase

Physicists have investigated an explosion of X-ray light originating from a black hole in an outburst phase. The data suggests during an outburst, black holes consume huge amounts of stellar material and shrink in size by a factor of ten.
Emerging Tech

The enormous ‘Flying Bum’ moves toward a commercial design

A prototype of the world's largest aircraft is being retired as the company behind it prepares to build a production model. The new Airlander 10, also known as the "Flying Bum," could be ready for commercial use by 2025.
Emerging Tech

Face-scanning A.I. can help doctors spot unusual genetic disorders

Facial recognition can unlock your phone. Could it also be used to identify whether a person has a rare genetic disorder, based on their facial features? New research suggests it can.
Emerging Tech

Yamaha’s new app lets you tune your motorcycle with a smartphone

It used to be that if you wanted to tune your motorcycle’s engine and tweak its performance, you needed specialized tools and even more specialized knowledge. Yamaha’s new Power Tuner app changes that.
Emerging Tech

Lasers and bovine breathalyzer help determine how much methane cows produce

Cow farts and belches don't sound like catastrophic threats, but they contribute to the massive amounts of methane in the atmosphere. Recently, scientists set out to establish the numbers.
Emerging Tech

Researchers discover a way to make 3D printing 100 times faster using light

Researchers at the University of Michigan have invented a new method of 3D printing which is up to 100 times faster than conventional 3D-printing processes. Here's how it works and why it could prove a game-changer for 3D printing.
Emerging Tech

Why wait? Here are some CES 2019 gadgets you can buy right now

Companies come to CES to wow us with their cutting edge technology, but only a few products are slated to hit the market right away. Here is our list of the best CES 2019 tech you can buy right now.
Emerging Tech

Short film celebrates New Yorker’s amazing robot costumes

New York City resident Peter Kokis creates stunning robot costumes out of household trash. His designs are huge, heavy, and extremely intricate, and never fail to turn heads when he's out and about.
Emerging Tech

In a first for humankind, China is growing plants on the moon

Having recently landed a probe on the far side of the moon, China announced that it managed to grow the first plant on the moon, too. Here's why that matters for deep space travel.
Emerging Tech

Ford’s sweaty robot bottom can simulate 10 years of seat use in mere days

Ford has developed 'Robutt,' a sweaty robot bottom that's designed to simulate the effects of having a pair of human buttocks sitting on its car seats for thousands of hours. Check it out.
Emerging Tech

CES 2019 recap: All the trends, products, and gadgets you missed

CES 2019 didn’t just give us a taste of the future, it offered a five-course meal. From 8K and Micro LED televisions to smart toilets, the show delivered with all the amazing gadgetry you could ask for. Here’s a look at all the big…