NASA says the buzzing of drones is totally the most annoying sound

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Do you remember that scene in Dumb and Dumber where Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels’ characters showcase what they claim to be “the most annoying sound in the world?” Well, had that movie been made in 2017 instead of 1995, it seems there would be a new contender for irritating noises: The buzzing of drones.

Well, according to NASA scientists, that is.

In a new study carried out by NASA, 38 test subjects highlighted the sound of drones (or sUAS — small unmanned aerial vehicles, as NASA calls them) as the most annoying noises of any ground vehicle. Subjects were played recordings of commercially-available drones — as well as cars, utility vans, and box trucks — and asked to rate recordings on a scale ranging from “not at all annoying” to “extremely annoying.” Drones did not fare well.

“What we found was that the sounds of the sUAS produced systematically larger annoyance responses than the sounds of the cars when presented at the same volume,” research engineer Andrew Christian told Digital Trends.

While this work is only preliminary, it could nonetheless prove to be a fly in the ointment for companies like Amazon that dream of drone deliveries being an everyday occurrence. (As if overcoming regulatory hurdles was not already enough of a headache.) “I hope that this does not lead to a damping of the deployment of drones for any application — not just package delivery,” Christian said. “That was not our intention. Further, NASA is not a regulatory body, and this research is not aligned with any direct attempt to study the noise of sUAS for those purposes.”

He also pointed out that things can change. We might currently be uncomfortable with drone sounds because it is a new sound we have yet to get accustomed to. Jump forward 30 years and a similar study could yield very different results.

“I would argue that the factors that arise that would fall under the category of familiarity can swing both ways,” Christian said. “[In the case of an airport, for example,] someone who found employment when it was built might feel very differently about aircraft noise than the person who had to be removed several city blocks to a new home when the runway was subsequently extended. [Changing responses might also be] not be so much of a cognitive familiarity, but more of an acclimatization. That, too, can have surprising effects. An old friend of mine used to live in an apartment above the elevated J/M/Z lines in Brooklyn. He would sleep like a rock, except for when the train stopped running in the middle of the night because then he knew to wake up early in order to give himself more time to commute to work.”

In other words, wait until you’re all working for drone companies and then say they are annoying! You can check out the complete NASA research paper here.

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