Allowing a drone to fly over crowded areas allows for interesting applications such as crowd safety monitoring and news gathering. The problem, is that if the drone loses power or control, it can become a serious safety hazard to the people it’s flying over. Strict regulations imposed by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and international regulatory organizations severely restrict crowd flyovers to prevent this outcome, but exemptions can be granted if a drone operator can demonstrate that they have procedures in place to minimize the chance of injury.
Parachute deployment systems are one method that can solve this problem. In the event that a drone is detected to have lost control, an on-board parachute will be deployed allowing it to float to the ground safely. Parachutes are common in a lot of aerial industries, but they do not do any good if they are not properly deployed. So the systems that detect an emergency and trigger the parachute are extremely important.
One company that has been working on this problem is Indemnis, based in Anchorage, Alaska. Their Nexus parachute deployment system has recently been certified to comply with the international standard for drone parachutes. Indemnis has been working with drone manufacturer DJI in a safety partnership to improve the safety of DJI drones and to develop safety standards for public flight scenarios, and their work appears to have paid off.
The Nexus parachute system has been tested by Indemnis in thousands of real-world scenarios involving drone failure, and has now passed certification with the DJI Inspire 2 drone at the NUAIR Alliance managed New York UAS Test Site in Rome, N.Y. This involved 45 tests of the system’s functionality in five different failure scenarios. The testing took four days to complete and verified that the system is compliant with the ASTM International F3322-18 Standard Specification For Small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) Parachutes.
The Nexus system deploys the parachute if it detects a drone free-fall or operation failure, with the parachute being fired at around 90 mph through a rapidly inflating tube designed to keep the parachute and its lines away from the drone’s propellers and any part of the drone body it may entangle with. The system is currently available with the DJI Inspire 2 drones and Indemnis hope to provide it for the Matrice 200 and 600 series drones towards the end of 2019.
Drone parachute systems like the Indemnis create many new opportunities for commercial drone operators. Hopefully these systems will continue to improve on both their safety and effectiveness. It’s also hopeful that regulators continue to hold drone manufacturers and operators to a high standard, as the safety issues with defective drones can’t be ignored.