Skip to main content

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

nasa drones annoying sound apple maps drone city
Image used with permission by copyright holder
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.

Editors' Recommendations

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
NASA’s Mars drone survives malfunction scare during sixth flight
NASA's Ingenuity helicopter.

NASA’s Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, suffered a scare during its sixth flight on the red planet when the aircraft lost stability in the air. Fortunately, the machine was able to overcome the situation and make a safe landing.

The flight took place on May 22, but NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is overseeing Ingenuity’s Mars mission, has only just revealed details of the event.

Read more
Mars helicopter can’t fly until it gets a software update, NASA says
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter is seen in a close-up taken by Mastcam-Z, a pair of zoomable cameras aboard the Perseverance rover. This image was taken on April 5, 2021, the 45th Martian day, or sol, of the mission.

NASA says its Mars Ingenuity helicopter requires a software update before it can attempt its first flight on the red planet.

There's a lot riding on Ingenuity as it seeks to become the first-ever aircraft to perform powered flight on another planet. The diminutive machine, which arrived on Mars with the Perseverance rover in February 2021, was supposed to make its first flight on Sunday, April 11, but an issue that emerged during a high-speed spin test of the aircraft's rotors prompted NASA to postpone the effort.

Read more
Hear the sounds of NASA’s Perseverance rover traveling through space
nasa perseverance rover space audio mars2020 over earth

Perseverance Rover's Interplanetary Sounds by NASA

NASA's Perseverance rover is currently whipping through deep space on its journey to Mars, where it will arrive in approximately three months. But if you want to check in on the rover, then NASA has a new way for you to do that -- you can hear a clip of the audio picked up by its onboard microphone as it cruises through space at 26,000 mph.

Read more