back to article Delivery drone crashes into power lines, causes outage

A delivery drone operated by Alphabet subsidiary Wing crashed into power lines in the Australian town of Browns Plains yesterday, knocking out power for more than 2,000 customers. The drone, which was carrying an unknown payload, made what Wing described to Australian media as a "precautionary controlled landing" that led it …

  1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    came to rest on an overhead power line.

    And was immediately cremated.

    But given that this is Australia, landing on a 11,000V is probably still safer than being on the ground with snakes/spiders/sheep

    1. chivo243 Silver badge

      Re: came to rest on an overhead power line.

      "And was immediately cremated." Can we see control video of this?!! Surely there is a video?

      Icon for effect!

    2. Ken Shabby

      Re: came to rest on an overhead power line.

      Them 'roos are not too friendly either

      Curious Kangaroo Charges Paraglider

  2. usbac Silver badge

    "While 2,000 locals lost power for around 45 minutes, an additional 300 were left in the dark for three hours so Energex workers could be sure there was no damage to the lines, Donald said. "

    So, are those 2,000 people going to be compensated by Google for their outage? Especially the 300 people without power for three hours!

    How about the utility company that had to respond to the incident?

    It's about time these companies be held responsible for this moronic idea of using drones to deliver packages.

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      Yes not charging them "because there was no damage to the lines" is stupid. The incident still has a cost associated with it, and more importantly there should be incentives for Google et al to not cause incidents like this beyond the cost of replacing their drone.

      If nothing else surely the government body responsible for allowing drones to be used for commercial purposes should issue fines when they hit something they aren't supposed to hit.

      Big companies like Google and Amazon respond to economic incentives. They want drone delivery because it will save them money. They should bear the full cost of externalities like crashing into power lines or killing the neighbors dog when they drop your package on his head by mistake.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge
        Black Helicopters

        And indeed they have already admitted responsibility: the drone made a "precautionary controlled landing" on a power line? Doesn't sound terribly controlled to me.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "precautionary controlled landing" is a legal term from international aviation law. It means the aircraft was in control but landed in a field because there was a concern that if it continued flying it would lose control. In a regular aircraft it can be performed for various reasons, being close to running out of fuel, or the weather deteriorating around you, suspected engine faults etc. For a drone I guess it's things like getting low on battery, or losing one of a redundant pair of sensors, etc.

          There is a big question that if this was a PCL why did it end up in power lines, given it was in full control.

          1. imanidiot Silver badge

            Because they haven't bothered to map power lines nor implement any system to avoid them probably

            1. Neil Barnes Silver badge
              Black Helicopters

              Yes. This was not a controlled landing, this was controlled flight into terrain.

              When I bomb out on a paraglider cross country flight, you'd be amazed how careful I am to keep an eye out for suitable landing sites, clear of turbulence-causing obstructions and particularly clear of power lines... it's really a bad idea to land on them.

              In the drone's defence, they're extremely difficult to see except in the rare occasions where high voltage lines have visibility aids on the wires (sometimes when they cross a valley, for example) - and that's why it's navigation system needs to have them mapped.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Indeed, I fly a censna and the correct technique for a PCL is a series of progressively lower orbits of the proposed landing site, starting at 1000ft and progressing to 700 then 500ft (lowest legal altitude without actually being in the process of landing). During these orbits your looking for power lines, livestock, hidden ditches etc that may make it unsuitable. If its OK you climb back to 1000ft and perform a circuit and landing as normal. If it's unsuitable you find a different field.

            This sounds more like it was a FL (forced landing - aircraft is not flyable) than a PCL. I wouldn't be surprised if the marketing department heard the phrase PCL and thought it sounded better so substituted it in the press release.

            1. imanidiot Silver badge

              If the plane was controlled the whole way it probably WAS a PCL to begin with, but it ended in a controlled flight into obstacles/terrain. That's still a crash, not a landing.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                In which case the drone did not perform a PCL, it attempted a PCL and crashed during the process.

      2. bazza Silver badge

        Undue Risks

        The issue I have with this kind of thing is that, with only minimal forethought, one can see that drones dropping on to substations is a very bad thing.

        Ok, in this incident, no real harm done. However, had it knocked out the power supply to a local hospital, and the hospital's own backup failed, you're looking at a lot of dead people in Intensive Care. A hospital's back generators are not supposed to fail, but then again they're not currently being asked to kick in very often. If drones dropping out of the sky becomes more commonplace, one day it will result in fatalities, liability, prosecutions and jail. Or at least it should do.

        This kind of piecemeal "let's have a go and see what happens" approach to working out what is acceptable is ridiculous. The approach is designed by the industry to see if they can get away with less assurance of air worthiness / air safety than applies to normal aviation. Assurance costs money. We already know that aircraft of any size dropping out of the sky, or dropping bits of themselves, is a bad thing, which is why there's standards and strong regulation for conventional aircraft. It shouldn't be any different for delivery drones.

        And if anything, the standards will have to be tighter; delivery drones only make sense if there's a lot of them, spending a lot of their time over lived-in areas. If they're going to go wrong, the chances of them going wrong over people is a lot higher than for conventional aircraft. For the overall accident rate to be publicly acceptable each drone is going to have to be considerably more reliable than an airliner / other aircraft.

        1. DS999 Silver badge

          Re: Undue Risks

          If that becomes a problem, you will see netting/fencing over the top of critical infrastructure. Can't protect power lines that way because there is too much of it, but you could certainly protect substations and backup generation equipment.

          1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

            Re: Undue Risks

            All fine until someone throws a bicycle over the fence.

            1. DS999 Silver badge

              Re: Undue Risks

              They can do that now, but I am unaware of a single bicycle based attack on critical infrastructure.

              1. SImon Hobson Bronze badge

                Re: Undue Risks

                Ah, but didn't you see it in that 1969 documentary where some British blokes causes chaos in Turin ?

            2. RobDog

              Re: Undue Risks

              Hang on a minute lads, I’ve got a great idea…erm…

        2. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: Undue Risks

          "Ok, in this incident, no real harm done."

          Lots of harm done. I expect there were businesses without power. People working from home that lost connections when the power went out. Lost time is expensive. Having to close the gas station due to a power outage means people may have had to change their plans as they couldn't get fuel. Were any schools forced to stop lessons? How about all of the fuel needed so backup generators could kick in at hospitals, police/fire/emt departments? I expect there will be a fair number of people with a tangible claim for reimbursement.

          Electricity is at the base level of everything we do in the first world. When it goes out, so many other things also come to a halt. For this to happen because some company wants to deliver premium new shiny tat to a customer in a cool new way, there should be a big cost when things go wrong.

      3. MachDiamond Silver badge

        "They want drone delivery because it will save them money. "

        I doubt that. It's more like it's really super cool and when people see (and hear) the drones whizzing overhead, they'll look up and see the logo. It will be more about advertising and giving people a reason to think about some eTailer and all of the tat they could be buying and having delivered too if they just log in and get bombarded by all of the suggestions (they are getting paid to position).

    2. Andy The Hat Silver badge

      I believe that's exactly the sort of accident that Public Liability Insurance is for ... along with paying compensation for colliding with a pet dingo or impacting a cuddly Koala.

    3. hoola Silver badge

      One would hope that as they know who & what the assigning of responsibility (Wing) is very easy.

      They just need to pay all the repair costs and appropriate compensation to the 2000 people and businesses.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    from the article

    "The meal was still hot inside the drone's delivery box when the crew got there,"

    No kidding, after bridging 11,000V, the meal would still be hot if the drone was delivering ice cream sandwiches.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: from the article

      There’s a photo on the Australian news site of an intact drone sitting across the cables. No dramatic flash bang and sparks. Seems the protection systems worked well.

  4. Nifty

    Was it delivering a UPS?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hawks can cause power outages to.

    Earlier this year, the power went out at my kids house in the western US.

    Later I drove by the spot where a power line had been upgraded from single phase to 3 phase. At the end where the new line connected to the older three phase line, there was a hawk sitting on one of the wires. And a near by wire connecting one phase between the old and the new lines was blowing in the wind. OK, big heavy wire so not flopping around, but definitely not connected.

    I drove back 40 minutes later and there were 5 or 6 power company trucks there and a bunch of lineman were all standing around talking. And that wire wasn't hanging loose any more. Hopefully they were discussing proper line connections and testing your work. ;-)

    The power was on back at the house when I got there.

    1. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

      Re: Hawks can cause power outages to.

      PG&E? They could blame a power outage on the acoustic vibrations of a nearby drone.

      There's an annual power outage in my neighborhood. Two sets of lines cross at right angles over a road and there are jumpers in the middle joining the HV wires. Gentle autumn breezes wiggle the wires and eventually snap a jumper. If it breaks free of the higher line, it swings around and slaps the 120V lines below. The row of old jumper clamps is testament to PG&E's technical competence.

  6. Howard Sway Silver badge

    precautionary controlled landing

    So, as it was "controlled", it deliberately landed on the power lines then? What greater danger was being avoided that necessitated the fiery electrocution of the drone and disruption of power supplies as the least bad option? As for "landing", you need to be on the ground to claim that.

    Another corporate attempt to big up something that's just fucked up.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: precautionary controlled landing

      Yes, that crossed my mind too. If it was "controlled", what was the avoidance/guidance s/w doing? Or is that what failed and by "controlled" they mean flying blind on a downward glide path? What if it had been at the destination and instead of a power line it was a person? Or a busy road? Or a crowded street?

      (Yeah I know, Australian outback. But I doubt this drone was "special" for the outback. Same ones are/will be used in more populated areas.)

      1. Francis Boyle

        Browns Plains

        is just south of where I live. Definitely not the outback.

  7. Adrian 4

    It was an attempt to keep the delivery package safe by perching on the wire temporarily. Works for birds, right ?

  8. Gene Cash Silver badge

    This is an ex-drone!

    This drone wouldn't go foomph if you put 11,000 volts through it!

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: This is an ex-drone!

      Look at the photos on the Aussie news site. Drone just sitting there intact.

  9. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    "Fifteen years ago, we asked people to be careful if they were giving their children kites for Christmas and where they were flying them. Now we're asking parents to be very careful with where their kids fly their drones,"

    The advantage of kites is that the kids don't get a second chance to short the power lines...

    1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

      On The Subject Of Kites, Kids, Powerlines &.....

      .......Mr Chinnery.

  10. cdrcat

    Nice photo of drone on the wires in the linked article

    1. Jan K.

      Re: Nice photo of drone on the wires in the linked article

      "The meal was still hot inside the drone's delivery box when the crew got there," Mr Donald said.

      Well, doh!

      1. Jan K.

        Re: Nice photo of drone on the wires in the linked article

        Sorry, didn't see someone already catched that some posts above.

        Just typical! ^ ^

  11. Winkypop Silver badge

    The take away from all this

    Drive to the store yourself.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: IBM Engineer...

    Can't help thinking that the drone must have been under direct remote control at the time with a video feed. If it had to come down quickly, they may not have noticed the power lines until it was too late to avoid them. Watch some paramotoring videos for some butt-clenching demonstrations!

    Doesn't make it any less acceptable though. If the drone was fully automated at the time, it should not have been!

  13. SImon Hobson Bronze badge

    Was it trying to get a quick recharge ?

  14. Steve Button Silver badge

    I hate to say I told you so, but

    Actually, I don't hate that at all.

    I told you so.

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