< Back to Safety Toolbox

Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAV/UAS)

Hi I'm Jill, Chief Safety Officer with Vivid Learning Systems. I'm a former OSHA inspector and I'm here to help you identify and correct workplace safety hazards.

For this series we're at the University of Louisville in beautiful Kentucky to show you no matter where you work, safety is for everyone.

Unmanned aerial systems or unmanned aerial vehicles or drones as most of us know them are widely used in industry. Today we'll find them in warehousing or agriculture or emergency response or hazardous waste sites, and what is it that our employees need to know to keep themselves safe when operating them? To find out answers to that today we are with Dr. Adrian Lauf who is the assistant professor of computer engineering and computer science and the director of aerial robotics lab at the University of Louisville, School of Engineering.

Dr. Lauth, thank you so much for being with us today. It's my pleasure Jill.

Could we start with some terminology definitions, what is the difference between an unmanned aerial system and unmanned aerial vehicle and drone and which is most accurate to use? A drone is a colloquial term that we use and it's really a B or at best a target practice aircraft that was using the 50s but really an unmanned aerial vehicle is a singular of the aircraft that flies without a human on board. An unmanned aerial system on the other hand is the combination of the components that are required to make that system air worthy.

Lila it's the ground control unit one or more aircraft whatever linkages they use and any support equipment that they might have.

What are these aerial systems used for in industry and what are the benefits of them? Well this is sort of an untapped market. Everybody can kind of imagine what they want to use them for if you think about it. Agriculture is a fantastic application of them they're used for precision monitoring of areas where perhaps so water levels are inadequate or too much. They're used for any kind of application where sensing or imaging is required. You could use them in disaster and first responder scenarios. You can use them for even indoor environments where you're trying to get a lay of the land where packages might be in a warehouse and of course any place where it's too dangerous or too difficult to place a human being in action.

For instance, the Fukushima reactor, after the tsunami in Japan, they use aerial vehicles to look for damage and assess a situation. So it does FAA regulates the use of these systems. They're pretty much all regulated. If you jump off the ground you're an aircraft because a millimeter above the ground level is FAA airspace.

Now aircraft whether they're unmanned aerial vehicles or traditional aircraft are all regulated by the FAA. There are exceptions and use cases for small unmanned aerial systems which are less restricted by the FAA. And then there are some guidelines about commercial usage so our pilot license ever required to operate them. A pilot's license is required if you're seeking a 333 exemption this is for commercial use. The rules are changing but if you're seeking a 333 exemption typically you do require a pilot's license in order to operate the aircraft. There are ways to fly commercially without the pilot's license and that is something that is in progress right now. There are ways of obtaining a certificate to fly.

Ok, how does the university use these systems? So from the more obvious perspective such as getting some nice footage of the campus, but in my lab we actually use them to study coordinated behaviors.

So how do we fly these aircraft in groups or in multitudes and so we actually work a lot on the computer side of it and then we go out and fly the aircraft and test how well we're doing. Understanding that these systems are ever evolving technology what would be some safety tips that would apply to both types of systems? Sure so all aircraft regardless of the type have a number of things that you need to keep in mind first of all they probably have a propeller or some sort of rotating part on them you keep your hands and feet and any other appendages away from them at all times. Best safety tip I can give is always assume that the aircraft is armed and active meaning the rotor or the prop could start at any time and if you work with that philosophy you'll be less likely to be injured especially with electric aircraft that can start with a full force of the motor from zero.

Very good, and so if we're talking specifically then about multi-rotor systems what are some safety tips for those? Yes, so these are aircraft that can take off and land in a very small space and this kind of puts us into a small misconception about safely operating them. So what you want to do is first of all identify an area that has at least thirty feet of space around the aircraft and it's clear of all obstacles when launching the aircraft. When you're actually flying the aircraft stand back at least ten feet before causing the aircraft to take off and make sure you have at least that much space available again at landing. These are aircraft that should not be caught by hand. That is something that some people try it is not recommended. Does not sound like a safe practice. Multi-rotor aircraft are also equipped with an advanced battery technology that permits them to to use as much energy as they require these batteries have safety requirements that must be observed when charging and using them so as to avoid fire hazards.

Interesting and then what about fixed-wing, what are the safety precautions with those? Well because a fixed-wing aircraft generally cannot take up to take off vertically these aircraft need to use a runway. Most important points here are to select a location a flight location if possible or runway if not a location that is free of obstacles peoples and trees. You want to make sure that you're able to takeoff upwind and that you're able to land up when if possible as well with all these aircraft you also want to avoid flying them in conditions for which they're not designed.

Well thank you, and thank you for sharing these really important safety tips with us I appreciate it and I'm sure our audience will too.

So if you are an employer who is using drones in your facility remember it's important to identify the hazards associated with the type of unmanned aerial system that your company is using and you identify how you're going to eliminate those risks with your employees, even if there isn't specifically let's say an OSHA regulation mandating that. It's still your responsibility to identify and eliminate the potential hazards associated with it. So these tips that Dr. Lauf shared with us today is definitely are definitely a great place to start.

I hope you gained a safety skill today, if you know someone who needs this go ahead and pass it on.

Safety is everyone's business.