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Study weighs risks of human-drone impacts
by Brooks Hays
Washington (UPI) Sep 19, 2017

Israel says shot down Iranian-made, Hezbollah-operated drone
Jerusalem (AFP) Sept 19, 2017 - Israel's military fired a Patriot missile on Tuesday to bring down what it said was an Iranian-made drone operated by Hezbollah on a reconnaissance mission over the Golan Heights.

The drone took off from a Damascus military airport before entering the demilitarised zone approaching the Israeli-controlled part of the Golan Heights, Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus told AFP.

"We scrambled fighter jets but they did not engage the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle)," Conricus said.

"It was instead shot down by one Patriot missile that was fired by Israeli air defence soldiers."

He said details of the drone were still being evaluated, including whether or not it was armed. It fell in the buffer zone between the Israeli- and Syrian-controlled parts of the Golan.

Israel and Syria are still technically at war, though the armistice line on the Golan Heights had remained largely quiet for decades until civil war erupted in Syria in 2011.

Israel seized 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) of the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.

In April, Israel used a Patriot missile to shoot down what it identified as "a target" over the Golan Heights, with Israeli media reports saying it was a drone.

It has also seen regular spillover fire from the conflict in Syria and acknowledges carrying out dozens of air strikes there to stop advanced arms deliveries to Hezbollah.

Earlier this month, Syria's army accused Israeli warplanes of hitting one of its positions, killing two people in an attack that a monitor said targeted a site where the regime allegedly produces chemical weapons.

- UN speech -

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is due to address the UN General Assembly later Tuesday, has boosted his criticism of arch-foe Iran and Hezbollah in recent months.

He has particularly spoken out about Iran's presence in neighbouring Syria, where it is backing President Bashar al-Assad's regime, like Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah.

When meeting US President Donald Trump on Monday, Netanyahu said he wanted to focus on the Iranian threat and Tehran's growing clout in Syria.

During a visit by UN chief Antonio Guterres last month, Netanyahu accused Iran of building sites to produce "precision-guided missiles" in both Syria and Lebanon.

On Tuesday, Conricus said "it is not the first time that we see Hezbollah operating UAVs for reconnaissance missions," but added that Israel decided to shoot it down after it entered the buffer zone.

He said the decision to do so had no link with Netanyahu's speech later in the day in which he is expected to focus on Iran.

Israel's military "will not allow any breach of Israeli sovereignty or any hostile attempts by organisations like Hezbollah, the Islamic Jihad, Iranian terror organisations and Shia militias to harm the Israeli state and its citizens and we will respond swiftly and forcefully to any such attempts," he said.

The risks of drone-human collisions vary widely, researchers at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University found in a new comprehensive survey.

If drones are to take on more tasks, including package delivery, traffic management and more, the unmanned aircraft systems will have to fly over humans, raising the risk of drone-human collisions. But what do those risks actually entail? What might they look like?

The latest study offers answers to those questions -- questions regulators at the Federal Aviation Administration and elsewhere are likely to pose as they consider whether or not to grant UASs greater access to airspace.

Using a crash test dummy, Virginia Tech researchers analyzed the potential risk of head and neck injuries posed by three commercially available drones in various impact scenarios. The dummy was outfitted with sensors to measure acceleration and force during the different impacts.

Researchers flew the three aircraft at full speed into the dummy's head at different angles. They also dropped the aircraft onto the dummy's head at various orientations.

Scientists used the acceleration and force measurements to estimate the risk of severe or life-threatening injuries, like a skull fracture. The smallest and lightest of the three drones, weighing just 1.2 kilograms, presented only a 10 percent risk of severe injury. The largest drone, weighing more than 11 kilograms, presented a 70 percent risk.

"There's a wide range of risk," Steven Rowson, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics, said in a news release. "In some instances it was low, and in some instances it was high, and there are lessons we can take away from that to reduce injury risk in a deliberate way through product design."

Rowson has previously lead research into the risks of impact scenarios for automotive and sports industries. Rowson and his colleagues hope their findings can help set guidelines for reducing the risk of drone-human collision injuries.

The new analysis -- published this week in the journal Annals of Biomedical Engineering -- suggests injury risks can be mitigated if drones are designed to fracture and break upon impact.

"If you reduce the energy that's able to be transferred to be head, you reduce the injury risk," said doctoral student Eamon Campolettano. "The overarching goal for manufacturers should be to limit energy transfer."

While the latest research suggests there are some smaller drones that are already safe enough to take on commercial duties, the study was less about evaluating specific models and more about establishing a baseline for how to carry out risk assessments for drone-human impacts. In the future, researchers will look more intimately at the risks of different makes and models, as well as the benefits of various risk mitigation strategies.

Risk can't be eliminated entirely. So the questions is: how much risk will the FAA tolerate, and how can companies reduce risks to acceptable levels?

"How much proof does the FAA need before they say, 'Yes, that's okay'?" asked Mark Blanks, director of the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership. "Once those standards are in place, we're going to see huge expansion in the industry."

China touts military drone helicopter at exhibition
Washington (UPI) Sep 15, 2017
China is displaying its unmanned reconnaissance and attack helicopter drone to possible foreign military buyers at an exhibition in Tianjin. The aircraft is the AV500W, a 24.6-feet long autonomous aircraft developed and produced at the AVIC Helicopter Research and Development Institute. The drone has a flight ceiling of about 13,000 feet, a maximum speed of about 105 miles per ho ... read more

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