When drones and pork collide

A pork roast meets a drone propellor as part of safety research(Credit: Aalborg University)

In a display of true awesomeness, researchers from the Drone Research Lab at Denmark's Aalborg University have built a catapult that fires hobby drones at a pork roast. This display of porcine projectile piercing is not only high on the list of conversation starters, it also has the serious goal of finding out more about the safety hazards the tiny aircraft pose to people and property.

Anyone who has given their kids a toy drone knows that they can and will crash into just about anything. The problem is, how much damage potential do various hobby drones pose and what kind of injuries can they inflict? To work this out, the Drone Lab and the Aalborg University Hospital came up with a motorized catapult and high-speed camera system that can make precise measurements of both the speed and the force of drone impacts.

Despite its name, the catapult doesn't hurl drones across the room like bean bags. Instead, the drones or drone parts are attached to a slide and are pulled along an aluminum rail by an electric motor until they slam into a variety of targets at the other end, such as a pork roast standing in for an innocent passerby.

According to the team, the 3 meter-long (9.8 ft) catapult shoots a 1-kg (2.2-lb) drone at 15 m/sec (49 ft/sec) while the camera records the mayhem at 3,000 frames per second. Meanwhile, the force of impact is measured over time to ascertain the severity of the injuries.

The rationale behind the Aalborg catapult is the same as most modern safety testing and goes back to the early days of aircraft safety. It may seem strange to shoot drones at pork, but in 1943 Westinghouse Electric started shooting dead chickens at aircraft at 200 mph (322 km/h) using a compressed air cannon (a technique that was used well into the jet age), to test the effects of bird impacts on windscreens and engine intakes.

The researchers say that the catapult is still in the early stages of development as the team works to refine the mechanics and electronics, as well as the camera and lighting setup. As the experiment progresses, the catapult will be tweaked to fling larger drones at higher speeds.

The top video below shows the catapult taking on a pork roast in slow motion, while the one below shows the same impact at normal speed.

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