back to article UK's Civil Aviation Authority hashing out rules for crash-proof cargo pods on drones

The UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is drawing up guidelines so that crash-proof cargo containers can be attached to drones to transport medical items such as blood samples and vaccines. The CAA is working with the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA) and Medical and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to create a …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "Last year, remote-control drones were used"

    And how did that go ?

    Were there any problems ?

    Inquiring minds and all that.

  2. Chris G

    Mid flight failure

    Aside from ensuring the integrity of the containerised cargo, I would like to see the levels of redundancy in commercial drones addressed to minimise to likelyhood of a midflight failure.

    If that means the drones would be more expensive and energy imtense, affecting the profitability of their use, then the technology is not yet advanced enough to use them in this way.

    I have been watching some of the footage taken with drones of the Geldingadalur eruption in Iceland, they are a game changer in photography and the recording of historical events. Even to the point of the 'amateur' footage being good enough and of sufficient quantity to have scientific value.

    I don't see the current quad copter type drones as an everyday delivery vehicle for smallish packages though, for emergency medical makes sense but for pizzas or Amazon not so much.

    1. Dave Pickles

      Re: Mid flight failure

      Indeed. A four-engined aircraft can do pretty much everything on three engines that it can on four, while a quadcopter drone is in plummet mode if a single motor or propeller fails.

      Fixing this would require the motors and propellers to be uprated so the drone could fly on two, and a more sophisticated control system to recognise and deal with the failure eg by shutting down the opposite motor.

      1. Natalie Gritpants Jr

        Re: Mid flight failure

        That would require motors that could go to 200% of normal in the event of one failing and the opposite one being shut down. Might be cheaper to start with five that can go to whatever a pentagonal drone with one motor out would require. The chair you're sitting on probably has 5 legs and would still work if one leg fell off. (Hmm, maybe I should rush out and patent that idea).

        1. SkippyBing

          Re: Mid flight failure

          Very much a requirement for any modern twin engine airliner to be certified that they can fly on one engine, so not sure why it shouldn't apply to UAV flying over populated areas.

          1. ThatOne Silver badge

            Re: Mid flight failure

            > why it shouldn't apply to UAV flying over populated areas

            Because commercial interests. Aviation guidelines were made in a more innocent time, when greed was still shamefully hidden away. Nowadays it is worn as a badge of corporate honor, a sign that one has the stuff to create great profits.

            The main advantage of drones is that they are dirt cheap, so nobody will accept adding expensive safety features to them. At best they'll stick a smiley face with "So sorry we hit you..." on them.

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: Mid flight failure

              > why it shouldn't apply to UAV flying over populated areas

              Doesn't currently apply to helicopters that are allowed to fly into cities/hospitals

              1. SkippyBing

                Re: Mid flight failure

                It does, that's why they have two engines. Single engine helicopters are much more limited in where they can go over built up areas. E.g. over London they have to follow the heli routes along the Thames, anything goes wrong that's where they're supposed to land. Google Performance Class 1 Helicopters.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Mid flight failure

      IIRC at the moment the safety standards overflying a residential area require redundancy (ie; helicopters actually have two engines) and almost anything flying over a residential area is required to be able to clear the boundaries of that area which is why almost everything flying over a town does so at quite a high height (1000ft minimum) to provide the ability to glide or autorotate clear.

      It is reasonably obvious that an unpowered cargo drone is going to have the flight characteristics of a breezeblock, and that for cargo deliveries by drone to work, you have to slash those safety standards.

      It's also currently illegal to fly a drone within 150 metres of a residential area horizontally, and completely illegal to fly over them at any altitude with a drone, so if you want to do deliveries to a residential area then that's right out with the current rules so they'll be wanting exemptions from those safety rules.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Mid flight failure

        the flight characteristics of a breezeblock

        That alone is worth an upvote, but also thanks for the update. I haven't felt the urge to annoy locals with a drone, but it's good to know the constraints that exist.

  3. DrXym

    Crash proof how?

    If something is up in the sky and either fails or hits something it is going to come straight down to ground. Even if drones get parachutes or feather their rotors it's still coming down and possibly landing dangerously.

    Also I wonder how long it is before seagulls decide to attack them. If drones are used to carry food then this is inevitably going to happen.

    1. Little Mouse

      Re: Crash proof how?

      It sounds like this is mean to address what happens to the cargo after such a sudden loss of drone integrity. I'm not sure what kind of scenario they are trying to cover though:

      If your cargo is transplant organs, or eggs, then you'll want them to survive the ordeal 100% intact.

      If your cargo is plutonium or novichok, you'll need to ensure that your cargo stays completely sealed.

      If your cargo is cash or other valuables - you'll need to ensure the bad guys can't get at it.

      There's also the issue of minimising any collateral damage to people & property from plummeting cargo.


      Dunno how far they'll get with just 50K though... Bubble-wrap & parachutes maybe.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Crash proof how?

        Maybe wrap it in a skippy ball? Could give rise to a totally new sport of catch and release in the process :).

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Crash proof how?

          Obviously you make the drone out of the same stuff as the black box

      2. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: Crash proof how?

        > It sounds like this is mean to address what happens to the cargo

        Indeed, for that's what is expensive. For damage on people/animals/propriety getting hit by a falling drone, refer to the "We take our victims' life and property very seriously..." blurb.

        Seriously, if you want to make a business case for drone transport, the first thing your prospective clients will want to know is how you'll make sure their cargo won't be lost or destroyed. What you'll do about innocent people you kill is your problem, not theirs. So the only point to be addressed is to make sure the transported cargo has the highest survival chances possible, even if it means it will do extensive damage hitting whatever it falls upon.

    2. druck Silver badge

      Re: Crash proof how?

      Well it's nice to know the blood and organs on the inside of the crash-proof container will be safe, it's just shame about the blood and organs all over the outside, from the poor sod it landed on.

    3. Aussie Doc

      Re: Crash proof how?

      Just recently in Canberra, Australia, ravens were responsible for doing precisely that and halted delivery drones.

      More from Aunty here:

      Not quite so melodramatic ------>

  4. Red Ted

    Is there something I need to know about cosmetics?

    "consumer products such as batteries and cosmetics"

    Whilst I understand about not crashing a box of lithium batteries, I am at a bit of a loss to understand the issue with cosmetics?!

    Perhaps they are James Bond exploding lipsticks?

    1. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: Is there something I need to know about cosmetics?

    2. Cederic Silver badge

      Re: Is there something I need to know about cosmetics?

      I can imagine nail varnish being quite flammable, although I've never tested it. That's my afternoon plans subverted..

    3. Chris G

      Re: Is there something I need to know about cosmetics?

      When you look at the price of a few grams of snail slime, wrapped in a fancy container with a load of pseudo-scientific bullshit on it and a price anywhere up to several hundred pounds, a drone container full is probably worth more than a replacement kidney.

      Of course if you are in need of at least one kidney, they are priceless but I suspect you get my point.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    crash-proof cargo containers

    What a pity Professor Heinz Wolff is no longer with us to judge the winning design. :-)

  6. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

    Accelerometer to detect freefall and deploy a small parachute.

    Where do I get my 50 grand?

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