Do drone parachutes work? The American-made, Horsefly drone put it to the test

Worried about drones crashing down on crowds below? Drone parachutes might be the solution to not just easing concerns, but ensuring drones don’t tumble down from the sky at dangerously high speeds.

Enter the Aerial Vehicle Safety Solutions (AVSS) parachute recovery system. It’s designed for drones so that — in the event of a mid-air drone malfunction — the system will automatically cut power to the drone, deploy its parachute, and allow the drone to descend slowly from the sky, theoretically decreases the potential of harm to people or property on the ground and reduces the risk of damage to the drone itself. The parachute was designed by its namesake company, a Canadian aerospace company focused on building parachute recovery systems for commercial drones and precision delivery systems for last mile delivery, both for commercial off-the-shelf drones and OEM solutions for commercial drone manufacturers.

And the latest company to embrace drone parachutes — and more specifically the AVSS parachute recovery system — is Workhorse, an Ohio-based tech company known for its American-made Horsefly drone. Workhorse has been working to provide drone-integrated electric vehicles to the last-mile delivery sector.

Workhorse is a particularly interesting company given its partnership with the United Parcel Service (UPS) to advance the reality of economically viable, routine package delivery via drones. Workhorse’s custom-built Horsefly drone is made in the U.S., and pairs with electric delivery trucks to take-off and landing pad on the roof with charging capabilities and a control center for the driver to program the drone’s delivery route.

What the AVSS drone parachute tests mean

Tests of the AVSS drone parachute recovery system were conducted on Workhorse’s Horsefly drone over a series of several days, where the parachute was put through rigorous safety and failure scenarios. Ultimately the project ended with 45 of 45 test events with no failures.

And their 45-failure-free test events are proof that the AVSS parachute recovery system complies with ASTM International parachute standard F3322-18.

ASTM is an international standards organization that establishes voluntary technical standards that companies and makers generally agree to adhere to. When it comes to cars, all makers might agree to display the fullness of a gas tank a certain way. In kitchens, makers might agree to make ovens a certain size.

And it’s no different with drones. ASTM has had its hands in other aspects of drones such as remote ID (electronic licensing of drones).

And in this case of drone parachutes, ASTM is also getting involved. Because drones come in many shapes and sizes, the parachute validation is tied specifically to the type of drone that was used during testing.

Having a standard for drone parachutes is important because to-date, the Federal Aviation Administration prohibits most drones from being flown over people. However, newly proposed rules that have been published but have yet to be finalized have said that operators don’t need a waiver to fly over people if the drone pilot can show they have robust safety mitigations in place that meet an FAA-approved method of compliance (MOC). And this exact, validated parachute recovery system. could meet those parameters.

In short, these tests mean that we just got a lot closer to drones flying over people — which unlocks tons more use cases for drones.

drone parachutes Horsefly Workhorse NUAIR New York

Where are the tests of drone parachutes being done?

One of the biggest groups testing drone parachutes is NUAIR, which has been testing the Aerial Vehicle Safety Solutions Inc. (AVSS) drone parachute recovery system at its New York UAS Test Site in Rome, New York.

And that’s exactly where this latest test of Workhorse’s Horsefly drone took place.

The test site is managed by NUAIR (Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance, Inc.), a New York-based nonprofit organization dedicated to studying drones. It’s also the group behind New York’s 50-mile drone corridor, which was built to conduct visual line of sight testing and commercial drone operations.

This is now the fifth parachute standard validation conducted with NUAIR since the standard was published in 2018. And of those, NUAIR has now conducted three successful validations for AVSS, which it started testing last year.

The broader state of New York has been a leader in drone adoption. As part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2015 Upstate Revitalization Initiative called CNY Rising, $35 million was committed to the creation of a UAS test corridor between Syracuse and Rome, New York.

“The AVSS drone parachute tests conducted at Oneida County’s UAS Test Site at Griffiss are vital to ensuring safe commercial drone operations,” said Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. “Our test site continues to lead the way in drone development, and these latest standard validations will advance the entire industry to new heights. With our partners at NUAIR, Oneida County is flourishing as a world-renowned hub for UAS innovation.”

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