Can drones hurt humans? Researchers are crash-testing drones into dummies at the Blacksburg campus of Virginia Tech to figure out just how much damage drones could do if they collided with people, according to Bloomberg. (See also: Alphabet Inc. Will Deliver Burritos by Drones.)
The report details how researchers try crashing different drone models into a dummy named Hank that has been equipped with 15 sensors on its head and neck. Researchers study the impact as well as the injuries caused by shards of broken drone that such a collision leaves on the dummy. The results of these tests, researchers say, will be made available to the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA).
The tests are being carried out at the FAA approved test site Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership and Virginia Tech’s Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science, which specializes in studying head injuries in car crashes, sports and the military.
According to a report released last year, the FAA forecast 2016 drone sales at 2.5 million units, and expected that number to increase to 7 million by 2020.
Since drones present safety risks to aircraft in flight and also potentially humans on the ground, the FAA regulates them closely. To operate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) – the FAA classification for drones – one needs to follow a long list of rules, including getting a remote pilot certificate, registering the drone, flying restrictions in certain areas and of course, flying over people.
According to data from the FAA from February to September 2016, 1,274 drones sightings were reported to FAA air traffic controlers, including reports by pilots claiming drone had struck their aircrafts. While the FAA has not been able to verify any collisions, the number of sightings is significantly higher than the 874 reported for the same period in 2015.
The results of such crash tests are important for regulating commercial drone use that puts these machines in close proximity to humans. Businesses like Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) , Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL) and United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) are experimenting with using drones for delivery. Last year, Time Warner Inc’s (TWX) CNN received FAA permission to fly drones over people for reporting purposes.