Bloomington, Ill.,
23
April
2021
|
08:10 AM
America/Chicago

How to fly drones over roads safely? Study what happens if they crash

FAA grants State Farm approval to expand drone use for claims, based on testing with Virginia Tech.

In a loop of high-speed video recorded at a blistering 30,000 frames per second, a drone slams into a car windshield. The shell cracks. Pieces of a propeller snap off.

  • State Farm has been leading the industry in testing safety and business applications of drones since 2015.
  • State Farm has been working with the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP) at Virginia Tech on drone safety case research for the last several years. In May 2018, the Commonwealth of Virginia was selected as one of 10 teams selected to be part of the FAA Integration Pilot Program (IPP). As a member of the Virginia IPP team, State Farm has worked with MAAP to assess a wide range of potential risks and strategies for reducing them.
  • In 2019, State Farm was granted the first national waiver to any company in the U.S. by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to conduct drone operations over people (OOP) and flights beyond the pilot’s visual line of sight (BVLOS) for catastrophic assessments through November 2022.
  • Previous waivers State Farm was granted were limited to a short time frame and to specific geographic areas impacted by hurricanes.

Most safe drone flights aren’t supposed to end in crashes. However, the recorded crash took place in one of Virginia Tech’s impact labs, where controlled collisions have served as testing for safer cars, football helmets, and even toys. Here, collisions illuminate risk and point to ways to reduce it, and, now, are helping lead to new ways to use drones.

Since 2018, State Farm® has been working with Virginia Tech to safely incorporate drones into our claims operations. However, a key provision restricting commercial drone use in urban and suburban areas is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibition against flying over moving vehicles. The concern is that a drone smashing into the windshield of a moving car could obliterate the driver’s view of the road or, worse, barrel into the car injuring occupants.

Safety has always been important to State Farm. However, under current rules, a claims drone operator assigned to inspect two houses across a busy street from each other would have to finish the first inspection and land. Then, the operator would have to walk the drone across the street and start all over just a few feet away.

The results of the Virginia Tech testing showed otherwise. The new data demonstrated that a small parachute-equipped drone won’t actually damage a car traveling at average in-town speed limits. The slim margin between a virtually pristine windshield and a destroyed one drew a clear boundary around low-risk scenarios. The data showed that as long as potential relative impact speeds never exceeded 62 mph, flights over moving vehicles presented minimal risk. The FAA agreed.

As a result, the FAA granted State Farm permission to fly over moving vehicles at the end of 2020.

This not only allows State Farm to increase efficiency while handling homeowners’ claims, but also helps pave the way for the drone industry for drone operation over moving vehicles in certain situations.

Getting this waiver for rapidly evolving technology being used in new ways, means finding ways to define, quantify and categorize risks in new ways.

“State Farm is committed to finding innovative opportunities that support safety and efficiency in our claims handling,” shared State Farm Manager Todd Binion. “If we look for ways to use data to help overcome regulatory challenges, we can move forward in other ways where drones can be used to benefit consumers across multiple industries.”

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Video of controlled experiment showing a drone crashing into a salvaged car windshield at 62.5 mph. Video credit: Virginia Tech
About State Farm®:

The mission of State Farm is to help people manage the risks of everyday life, recover from the unexpected, and realize their dreams. State Farm and its affiliates are the largest providers of auto and home insurance in the United States. Its 19,300 agents and nearly 55,000 employees serve approximately 86 million policies and accounts – which includes auto, fire, life, health, commercial policies and financial services accounts. Commercial auto insurance, along with coverage for renters, business owners, boats and motorcycles, is available. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company is the parent of the State Farm family of companies. State Farm is ranked No. 39 on the 2021 Fortune 500 list of largest companies. For more information, please visit http://www.statefarm.com.