Surprisingly, Pilot Errors Not the Main Cause of Drone Crashes

Photo credit: Alex Brandon/AP
Photo credit: Alex Brandon/AP

It wasn’t my fault that I crashed my drone. It was the drone’s fault!

This probably wouldn’t be the case every time, but according to a new study released by the RMIT University School of Engineering and published in Aerospace, it’s more likely that technical errors with the drone itself will cause a crash, compared to human error.

The researchers looked at 150 reported incidents between around 2006 and 2016, and found that 64 percent of incidents were because of technical problems. In most cases, they found that broken communication links were to blame.

This highlights one of the key problems with commercial drone traffic: there are no safeguards in place in the case of a technical error. Large aircraft, such as ones used by Airbus or Boeing, have “triple redundant systems” in place for communications, according to researcher Dr. Graham Wild. We’re still in this weird place between wanting to experiment fully with drones in every space imaginable, but also being wary about what they can do.


That means we’re going to keep finding ways that drones can be dangerous. It just means that it’s another step toward full drone takeover.

“But drones don’t and some of the improvements that have reduced the risks in those aircraft could also be used to improve the safety of drones,” Wild added. “Understanding what happens to drones, even those that don’t cause damage to people or property, is essential to improve safety.”

[RMIT University]

Weekend editor and night person at Gizmodo. More space core than human.

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I would love to read the data behind this “study”. I am a drone pilot. I started with a Parrot AR Drone, then slowly worked my way up to the Phantom 2, then the DJI S900 and now I fly the Inspire 1.

In my history of flying these aircraft, I can tell you the Parrot crashed constantly. 99% of them were my errors (including placing it 30 feet up in a tree)

The Phantom 2 I crashed once when I clipped a branch (my fault)

The Inspire 1 I also crashed once when I flew it past the battery warnings and didn’t understand the behavior the drone was going to do when it hit critical. I was under the impression I had set it to land in place but a firmware update had reverted back to the default setting so it tried to fly ‘home’ to where it took off from through a tree. It climbed to an altitude of 30 meters and went straight into a tree. My fault.

I have heard stories about ‘flyaways’ signal loss, GPS errors, etc. Every one of those stories are downright BS. Part of being a pilot of any type of craft (Car, Boat, Airplane, Drone, RC Car, Bicycle or Skateboard) is being accountable for your actions.

Part of that accountability is being aware of your crafts limitations, it’s also being aware of your own limitations. Any piece of technology (like a drone) will only be as good to you as you are to it.

Getting impatient and taking off before it sets a GPS home point? You’re asking for trouble. Not verifying where the GPS says it is compared to where you are? Same thing.

Modern drones have return to home features and other failsafes. I have tested all of them to see how they work (and how well they work) because it is my duty as a pilot to do so.

It’s also my responsibility to accept that one day, I will crash another one. If you’re not willing to look at the hobby (or in some cases business) with those glasses? Don’t buy a drone.