I have a confession. I have smashed drones to smithereens.
It's all in the name of product testing, of course, but I do wonder if those thorough reviews haven't made me prone to careless flying.
It's no joke. Hobbyist drone accidents usually aren't reported unless they result in significant damage, but incidents are mounting. Here's a map of reported drone accidents in the US to date.
And just this week, a British toddler lost an eye after a man's drone clipped a tree and crash landed in his neighbor's backyard.
With this Christmas set to be the biggest sales season ever for UAS-makers, the skies are only going to get more crowded with ballistic hazards.
There may be no solution (strict regulation is unlikely, as an FAA task force recently signaled), but a startup from Belgium is proposing to make drones a little safer through design. The company raised €35,000 in the opening days of a Kickstarter campaign around a spherical, soccer ball-like drone with a completely enclosed propeller.
Says Fleye cofounder Laurent Eschenauer: "Although drones are increasingly becoming a part of everyday life, the lack of safety standards and regulations in the industry are still the elephant in the room. We realized that the classic drone design has many shortcomings and decided to go back to the drawing board to create Fleye, the next-generation drone that can exist in perfect harmony with people."
Fleye is not the first drone with an enclosed propeller design. Skypersonic's Giotto is marketed for use indoors, and Cal Tech scientists created an airframe that utilizes ducted fans for its bumper drone. But Fleye does have an alluring design that may appeal to beginner pilots wary of exposed propellers.
To be clear, there is no such thing as a safe drone. A powered projectile can do damage whether the propellers are exposed or not. There's also a credible argument to be made that lowering the bar for drone pilots by offering affordable, easy-to-use, and "safe" drones will result in more inexperienced pilots and more accidents.
But the reality is that hobbyist drones are abundant and that regulations and licensure will not likely provide much in the way of safeguards. If drones can be made safer, that seems like a good thing.
And if Fleye is interested in proving just how durable their flyer is, I'm happy to give it the old Nichols treatment.