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UF/IFAS scientists offer safety tips for potential dangers of drone use

Some people seem to view drones as toys, but they can be dangerous. In fact, about 1,000 people per year are injured from using drones incorrectly. To address the potential peril, two University of Florida scientists are offering ways to keep people from getting hurt while using drones.

Yiannis Ampatzidis uses unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) for some of his research. By using drones, Ampatzidis — a UF/IFAS associate professor at the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee – obtains thousands of images from high above fruit and vegetable fields. Those images give him and plant pathologists the tools to help count trees and identify pests and diseases.

Because of his frequent use of drones, Ampatzidis co-authored a new UF/IFAS Extension document with Serap Gorucu, a UF/IFAS assistant professor, also in agricultural and biological engineering. Gorucu studies agricultural safety and health.

For the new document, Gorucu and Ampatzidis studied data for patients treated from Jan. 1, 2015 to Dec. 31, 2020, as provided by the U.S. consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System.

They found about 4,250 people were injured by drones. Of the injured patients, 21% were younger than 18 years old and 84% were male. The two most common injuries were lacerations (72%), followed by scrapes and bruises (10%). Fingers were most frequently injured (56%).

As of 2020, about 1.7 million drones were being used in the United States for recreational, scientific, commercial and military operations, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Drones can cause injuries because of their quick movements and because they include rotating parts, sharp blades and edges,” Gorucu said. “It’s not just the drone users that can get hurt; it’s other people around the drone. They can lose some of their hearing.”

Of all the injuries, 95% were treated and released from hospitals.

To stay as safe as possible, the FAA gives some recommendations. Here are a few:

  • Keep your drone within sight.
  • Do no fly a drone over people.
  • Fly during daylight.

Here are some additional tips from the Ampatzidis and Gorucu:

  • Keep your distance when taking off or landing and keep at least 16 feet from all those surrounding it. When using drones around young children, be extra cautious.
  • Keep your fingers and other body parts away from a moving propeller.
  • Stay away from power lines: If a drone entangles with a power line, do not try to retrieve it.
  • Before you operate the drone, read the user manual to learn safe operation.

“People usually perceive recreational drones as toys,” Gorucu said. “Drones must be registered with the FAA, and anyone 13 years or older must do that. There is no rule that younger kids cannot use the drones. Younger kids usually get injured when they are near the drones. So, parents or guardians should supervise their kids when they fly drones. Whether recreational or commercial, drones must be used responsibly, and FAA guidelines must be followed to help prevent injuries.”

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.

ifas.ufl.edu  @UF_IFAS