Jul 31, 2019

When drones fall from the sky

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

A frightening incident earlier this year in Switzerland now serves as a reminder of why we need to know more about the safety of urban delivery drones.

Driving the news: A malfunctioning drone operated by Swiss Post plummeted to the ground near Zurich, narrowly missing a group of kindergarten children, according to IEEE Spectrum.

  • The drone's emergency parachute failed after the line snagged on a sharp edge of the drone itself, causing the 22-pound device to fall quickly from the sky, a preliminary report found.
  • Swiss Post suspended the service indefinitely and called on the manufacturer, Mountain View, California-based Matternet, to make safety improvements before it could resume flying.

In a statement, Matternet said it had never seen its parachute system fail.

"At Matternet we take the safety of our technology and operations extremely seriously. A failure of the parachute system is a clear failure of our safety mechanisms and we are taking all the appropriate measures to address it."

What we're watching: The number of drones is expected to soar across multiple industries in the next few years, but only if they're proven safe.

  • In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration is weighing proposed rule changes that would allow drones to fly over people and at night — two circumstances that are currently prohibited without a waiver.
  • A series of pilot projects are underway in several states that aim to demonstrate how drones could be operated safely.

The bottom line: Drones have almost unlimited uses — delivering everything from medicine to pizza to inspecting infrastructure, such as pipelines and buildings. But regulators must ensure they're safe before people will accept them.

Go deeper

The emerging, untested drone defense industry

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The wildly unpredictable potential actions of drones are driving a new industry that promises to deflect, jam, take over, or just plain shoot them out of the sky.

What’s happening: More than 150 companies have already set up shop in a business said to be worth $2.3 billion in 5 years, even though few customers can legally use most of their products. For the defenders, the cowboy quality of some products creates an impossible choice between an errant drone and its antidote.

Go deeperArrowJul 31, 2019

How the AV industry could implement and enforce safety standards

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

AV companies are wrestling with how to define and set safety standards, and at a recent symposium, a possible path emerged — even if the industry hasn't reached a consensus.

The big picture: NHTSA's voluntary safety self-assessment guidance applies to AV companies — but there are no mandatory safety standards and any future standards will have to define "safe enough" and also verify safety to earn public trust.

Go deeperArrowAug 16, 2019

Tesla docs may signal tougher stance by federal auto-safety watchdog

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The federal government’s top auto-safety regulator has conducted sharply fewer defect investigations in recent years, but newly released documents involving Tesla's Autopilot suggest the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration may be getting more aggressive.

The big picture: Federal authorities leave it up to automakers to assess the safety of their vehicles, pushing for recalls only when a defect is detected. But as automated driving systems make their way into more vehicles, consumer advocates say increased federal oversight may be needed to ensure public safety.

Go deeperArrowAug 9, 2019