Drones Are Becoming More Popular, But Are They Safe?
Look up in the sky in the near future and the
world around us might soon start to feel a bit like a scene out of an episode
of The Jetsons. Why? Because everything from package deliveries to
farming to construction building and more might all soon be supported by an
unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone—a technology that is poised to change
the way we do business worldwide.
When drones gained popularity, they were predominantly used for capturing high-quality aerial images of travel, sports or other leisure activities through the use of a mounted camera. But the technological benefits of drones are no longer for entertainment alone. Captured images can be important in addressing activities such as real estate sales or maintenance of a large-scale renewable energy plant. They can also fill important tactical roles that include helping first responders manage events such as wildfires in the most effective and safe manner.
Related: 6 Ways Drones Are Making Us Safer
Uses for larger-scale drones are also being considered for transportation purposes. Late last year, Amazon grabbed headlines when it launched a drone delivery trial in the UK through their Amazon Prime Air pilot program – with the first package reaching its destination in just 13 minutes from click to delivery. Similarly, students at Virginia Tech last spring were treated to Chipotle burritos delivered via drone done by a Google test.
More and more industries are considering drone technology, recognizing the significant advantage they offer in terms of precision, convenience, and cost over more traditional solutions. In June, the Federal Aviation Administration announced rules that will make it much easier for companies to use drones in a variety of ways that include aerial photography and emergency response.
Drones rely on lithium-ion batteries as a power source. The safety challenges that drone manufacturers could face were the focus of a November 2016 workshop sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC). In the meeting, the DOC cited examples of widespread reports in early 2016 of hoverboards, which run on a similar battery technology as drones, overheating and leading to product recalls. The DOC noted the importance of standardization to safety and expressed a desire to work with stakeholders such as UL that might be instrumental in benchmarking the safety of drones.
UL has already developed safety requirements to support safer drones used for commercial purposes.
“Addressing electrical system safety considerations prior to market introductions of a great innovation like commercial drones allows all of us to benefit from the advantages of the innovation while minimizing the risk of product recalls that would pull the innovation off the market and potentially set it back,” says Ibrahim Jilani, Global Business Development Leader for Energy Systems and e-Mobility at UL. “This is a key lesson learned from the 2015 Christmas season where the nation faced a safety crisis with another type of lithium battery operated device, the hoverboard that ultimately were pulled from the market for a period of time.”
Before we know it, the use of drones to perform tasks that would be otherwise more dangerous, time consuming or inefficient will be a part of our collective future. By addressing safety now with UL safety requirements, manufacturers can achieve better safety records that will help pave the way for greater adoption of this technology around the world.