Camera Quadcopter Almost Hits Slalom Skiier

During the World Cup slalom skiing championship on Wednesday, ski champion [Marcel Hirscher] was nearly hit by an out-of-control camera drone, that crashed just behind him while filming during a run. Watch the (scary) video embedded after the break.

According to this article in Heise.de (Google Translate link), the pilot was accredited and allowed to fly the quad, but only over a corridor where no spectators were present. After the first couple of runs, apparently the pilot went off course and quite obviously lost control of the copter.

The World Cup immediately banned camera drones. According to the men’s race director for the international ski federation, drones are “a bad thing for safety.” Skiier [Hirscher] said that he “didn’t know what it was, although he felt something.” At the time he thought that it was probably some snow or a pole that fell over. He therefore “stayed focused and concentrated”. From the size of the drone, though, we’re pretty sure that he would have noticed it if it had dropped just a half-second sooner.

What do you think? Are large, camera-carrying drones too dangerous to fly when there are people underneath? Is registering them enough, or do we need stronger prohibitions? Or was this just a freak accident, and we’re seeing an over-reaction to new technology?

Thanks [Kai] for the tip!

107 thoughts on “Camera Quadcopter Almost Hits Slalom Skiier

    1. It’s clearly because he had a standard-definition camera on his quad and had to get dangerously close to get a reasonably good picture…. therefore, SD cams should be banned… or maybe stupid drone owners should pay large fines.

        1. No, this just means everyone needs a drone so they can protect themselves from drones. Makes perfect sense; regulation would just get in the way, and registration won’t stop the bad guys from getting drones anyway.

          The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a drone is a good guy with a drone. If someone else had had a drone they would have stopped the bad drone before it hurt someone.

          Especially if they put a gun on it.

  1. “The World Cup immediately banned camera drones.”
    What a stupid, knee-jerk reaction to a freak accident. Those camera multi-copters (I refuse to call a radio controlled device a “drone”) are used every day all over the world without incident. Yes, like any other piece of technology, things go wrong and accidents happen. That being said, no one got hurt, and there’s no reason to believe that these devices are inherently dangerous. Banning them from the World Cup was an idiotic thing to do.

    1. Imagine you training your hole life for some sport and could never take part again due to an injury caused by a failing drone. I personally do not see anything wrong with them being ban over a sporting event.

        1. My feeling is that a more intelligent response would be to restrict the areas that they could fly to areas where no one would be in danger should the thing crash rather than banning a very useful tool completely.

          What happened here was a freak accident, and it is unlikely that it will ever happen again.

          If anything, the only regulation changes regarding this sort of thing is that some sort of self-recovery or self-landing software should be required in the “drone” if it is to be flown in places where humans are, and this should be a local or event regulation, not a law.

          1. Unlikely that it will ever happen again? You must be new to technology :-) It will happen again within the month.

            Otherwise I totally agree that drones provide very dramatic footage and are very valuable additions to televised sporting events. However, flight paths should be carefully choreographed such that a failure should not result in the injury of a human.

            Also, maybe there should be weight limits on camera drones. That thing looked scary big.

            DougM

          2. “unlikely that it will ever happen again” – “to err is human”. How many unlikely to happen nuclear accidents have we had so far, and they spend a hell of a lot more on multiple redundant safety systems than any drone has ever had or will ever have.

          3. As rough as the translation was, it seems the xrone was supposed to stay within a corridor free of people (to the left? of the run), which the pilot initially did. I think it was flying in the buffer zone that exists between the race course and the audience.

            However, he was off track, lost control and crashed on the course. Whether the pilot was a dick and intentionally flew out of the corridor then lost control or he genuinely lost control then flew out of the corridor seems to be open to interpretation.

            The fail safe shouldn’t be to simply land (let’s land right in front of the competitor next time).

          4. The drone was actualy restricted to a harmless zone. The operator elected to ignore this zone for a better shot (according to the commentator in the video).

          5. Another rule maybe require drones over a certain weight to have six or eight rotors ,multiple controllers for redundancy and a parachute if all power is lost.
            The chute and deployment system could be similar to that used in high power model rockets.

      1. There have been multiple incidents where spectators jumped the barrier trying to cross roads and ski slopes, endangering themselves and the sporticians (sportists? sportagonists?). Of course, they immediately banned all spectactors.

        1. We allow cars providing that they are strictly regulated and drivers are licenced because of the benefit they provide. The cost/benefit ratio is considered to be high enough.
          Drones are unregulated. People hereabouts are complaining about attempts to do that. They also have little social benefit. The ratio in this case is low. We’re also not talking about a blanket ban here, only at World Cup skiing events and for the good reason that the organisers have seen ample evidence that even registered craft supposedly restricted to a limited flight corridor still pose a risk, all to provide a slightly different camera view.

          1. Oddly enough vehicle collisions might actually be less common with flying cars as you have more freedom of movement and can now go up and down and veering off to the side no longer means ending up in a ditch or hitting the railing.
            But there would be those nasty mishaps during landing and take off as vehicles would tend to get concentrated around designated landing zones and an occasional building collision that would make the news.
            Though it should be noted road cars already commonly hit buildings.

      2. By that logic, we should ban soft-roof stadiums, since one of them collapsed once. Also, race cars, since one of them crashed in a race once. While we’re at it, ban all fans of soccer, because a few of them lose their $hit and bum-rush the field, throwing objects that could land near the precious player.

        Where the hell have our testicles gone in today’s world?

    2. When I first saw the GIF I assumed the drone was a camera drone from the official organizers, that went foul.

      But to be frank, I think you can’t allow spectators to use drones at sporting events, not because of the unlikely event of it dropping on them but more because of the noise and the annoyance of the athletes and the possibility of actually flying in to them or being in their path and stuff like that.
      Plus with the explosive growth of drone owners once you allowed it there would be so many drones that they would end up flying into each other covering the same focus point of the athlete’s position.

      And talking of which, should HaD not start featuring ‘drone avoidance’ projects, because that out of necessity might be the next big thing in drone development, inbuilt avoidance of other drones (they already have projects to avoid stationary objects).

  2. Honestly, it was an accident. The guy tried to get an amazing shot and he just made an error. It happens, this is a hard thing to do. You can’t put a person there to get the shot, they risk being hit by the skiiers. It was a close call but I don’t think they deserve to be banned. Way to shut down innovation. Had he been injured, the pilot would be liable. That’s why responsible pilots join clubs and carry insurance.

    1. Insurance doesn’t help much when your skiing career is borked for the rest or your life. In Europe you’d be happy to get $10000 for that – the rest of the world is not like US where you get 10’s on millions for any shit that happens to you – or even caused by yourself but your lawyer manages to assign the blame elsewhere in court.

      1. In this case it would be quite substantial -even in europe-, because if it was negligence involved (has to be proven) from the pilot (leaving the assigned area deliberately) he would be accountable for the loss of earnings of this athlete. In this case Marcel Hirscher, one – if not the – most earning Skier at this time.

        Even not high earning loss of earning court cases are pricey here, it is cheaper if the involved person dies. (Not that I personally would favor any harm to anybody.)

  3. Sure liability insurance will replace an eyeball. You just order spare parts and get them installed. Piece of cake. You should explain the procedure to the dimwits that banned drones.

  4. What about tethered drones? The ones that basically just zip up and down a guy wire?
    Kind of like a flying fox – release one at the top of the hill, it slides down the wire, panning from side to side as it tracks the skier. Short of the guy wire breaking, it’s not going to veer off course.

    1. That’s basically how it was done before the drones. But the camera was on a tram system with a long cable and pulleys, and a winch (fast) pulled the camera down the hill along with the skier. It works fine in this situation. RC camera helicopters are used on occasion also.

      1. That’s a different setup than I had mentioned. Along side of the ski slope, if a cable breaks, it won’t enter the slope area. In the example you put forth, the length of the cables, and the huge amount of force on the cables due to the mass of the camera and the small angle off perpendicular of those cables relative to the ground, this sort of failure will be seen more and more.

  5. Until we get a flight log, firmware dump and technical analysis, investigate the operating environment, possible interference, and then get a bunch of experts to decider it was pilot error,

    I’ll commend the pilot for not hitting the crowd.

    The angle it came down on suggests a serious loss of control;
    – it plummets rather than “swooping ”
    – it is heavily angled (>70 deg) suggesting either an extreme input or a loss of self-stabilisation
    – the props don’t seem to be spinning fast prior to impact; this could be throttle kill (pilot disabling all motors to reduce damage – good piloting) or input failure

    Questions;

    Was the hardware (the MEMS gyro in particular, electronics in general) rated for temperature?
    Was prop and motor choice sufficient for high altitude / low temp
    What did the on-board vision show?

    1. This is kinda what I was thinking. There should be an NTSB-like investigation to determine what actually happened, why, and how to prevent it happening again. A temporary ban while the answers are sought would not be unreasonable. Unfortunately, there is no such investigatory entity that I know of. And who would pay for such an investigation?

      1. This – The information in an NTSB report is used to prevent the situation from happening again. Be it from education, materials changes, or whatever else caused the incident. Model aircraft enthusiasts have been sharing information like this for decades at club meetings, in newsletters, and on the internet. Years back a propeller manufacturer had a bad run of large (15″ and greater) props. The information got out quickly, and hopefully avoided some accidents.
        Unfortunately there is no standardized procedure for doing all this. We need an organization (AUVSI?) to step in and pick up that torch.

    2. “the props don’t seem to be spinning fast prior to impact; this could be throttle kill”
      That might be difficult to judge given the strobe effect the camera might induce.
      Otherwise I agree with your comments.
      Also, living in up Canada, I have to agree with the low temperature effect on Li batteries. The capacity is reduced dramatically and cuts off sharply. With a camera I have to carry three batteries in my inner coat pocket and rotate them periodically at -40C. Probably not the case here but it could be a factor with sudden loss of comms or power.

      1. Just a thought, but you know those phase-change things you get as handwarmers? You boil them up to re-charge them. Or my sister has a little thing that’s a bit better, burns fuel, I think lighter petrol, using a catalyst, lasts ages and gives loads of heat, is flameless once it heats up. Might be, that using something like that with your batteries will add enough usable energy to make up for the extra weight.

    3. My (educated) guess, without knowing prior experience of the pilot, is he wasnt used to cold weather flying, and wasnt using a battery alarm (distraction to the skiiers, picked up by mics etc) and wasnt using telemetry (a lot of extra gear to carry/setup) and was flying based on prior times observed, though those times were thrown off due to the winds and cold weather. Lipos like colder temps, to an extent, then the power curve drops off significantly.
      Though if it was mechanical/electrical failure:
      If it were me, and I were in the commercial flying business (still a lot of money there), I’d build out an octocopter with a Flight controller that detects motor/esc/prop failure, and turns off the opposite arm(s) turning it into a hex/quad. This would of course give you less control ability, but in this situation, you wont be going for the shot, youll be making a (semi) controlled landing, at a slow enough speed for both you, and people on the ground to react to render the situation safe. I believe the APM and/or the PixHawk has/had this functioning.
      If you are in the commercial flying business, whether for sports events or movies, etc, you will be flying over people, and its just silly to not take every precaution you can. I mean seriously, another $500-1500(very rough estimate) and he could have an octo in this config, rather than A) Losing what is likely a $3500+ airframe, and $1500+ camera (appeared to be a higher end DSLR, from what little I could see) and B) had he hit the guy, paying for any fines/insurance etc.
      Ah well…I guess we just have more common sense than the people going to a strip mall, swiping a credit card, and flying in ways and places they shouldnt be…

    4. Having only been flying multi-rotors for less than a year (I’m mostly a fixed wing guy), I can’t claim a great deal of expertise. However, I have twice had a prop break in flight while flying a home-built penta-copter.

      In the first case, it was from one of the side motors. This particular ‘copter will fly adequately if one of the side motors fail… in this case, the resulting vibrations from a hugely off-balance prop played havoc with the flight controller. Of course, the machine was barely controllable, although I was able to set it down without too much damage.

      In the second case, it was the tail rotor prop that broke, leaving me with no yaw or pitch control. The resulting crash was (needless to say) spectacular, even though I was able to cut the throttle well before it reached the ground.

      Bottom line: I don’t care how skilled you are, there can always be some unanticipated equipment failure (and yes, human error) that can cause a multi-rotor to fly or fall out of control. They should never be flown over events where such a failure could result in injury.

      1. When i first saw this, my initial thought was “Why weren’t they using a penta/hex copter? Then it could survive a failure of a motor” but ultimately, this shows how little i know about the issue as i thought they could be still controlled with the loss of an motor.

        Thanks for your post, I learned something

  6. I’m honestly sick of people calling them drones. They aren’t drones. These aren’t military weapons. It’s as if the world is trolling a single hobby right now, equating people who fly RC planes, helicopters and multi rotors as crazy lunatics with an intent to fly the props into someone’s neck or snap photos of a neighbor having intercourse from inside their property line. This isn’t the truth at all. The problem is media has made it easier to propagate this crap quicker. The media doesn’t highlight the cool stuff or the common. The only thing people want is to see bad things happening because it feels like it’s striking home. It’s becoming more popular and due to the fact that people need juicy drama in their lives, calls for a total banning of something that used to be fun and exciting. Now I feel like I’m a criminal if I even carry my gear outside, expecting people to call the police because they think I’m a terrorist. I see a world where nobody can do anything that is remotely exciting at all. It’s all because of safety and propaganda mongers getting rid of all the great things in life. People need protection from themselves. We are dangerous to ourselves. What’s next, banning telescopes because they can see long distances and could be used by terrorists or idiots to spy on from afar? You want to ruin that hobby too?

    I’m sorry I’m ranting, but in a week’s time I went from having fun with my quad to fearing police harassment. It just sucks. Stupid people always eff it up for the rest of us.

    1. You don’t seem to understand the definition of the word. From the dictionary:
      Drone:
      a) an unmanned aircraft or ship that can navigate autonomously, without human control or beyond line of sight:
      the GPS of a U.S. spy drone.
      b) (loosely) any unmanned aircraft or ship that is guided remotely:
      a radio-controlled drone.

      So yes, they are using the word correctly and these are drones.

      1. So then all RC craft are drones. Because once they are in flight or forward motion, you can let go of the sticks and they will continue on without any input. They may not do what you want but if they did, that would be human control. That’s a retarded assumption to make, and the definition is flawed. People didn’t start using the word drone until the military started flying them, and those weren’t quadcopters. They were fixed wing. If you want to start calling them what they are, call it a UAS. That’s basically in a nutshell what it is.

        1. From (a) (which is the tighter definition) older types of model aircraft were not good at flying out of line of site so they didn’t really qualify (they lacked any kind of autopilot, and didn’t have the dynamic stability to carry on far without control input). It’s the advent of complex autopilot/ stability systems that causes RC quad copters et al to qualify as drones. It is also a term that has been used much longer than you seem to think, and for non-offensive craft.

    2. Yep 100% agree. The news started this about 2 years ago and I hate it as well.
      Consider the following fear mongering language comparison:
      “Was flying a quadcopter until it had a rotor lock up and crash.” = Hobby
      “Was piloting a drone until it had a serious malfunctioned and crashed” = FAA investigation
      “Was practicing with his pistol at a local range.” = Hobby
      “Was shooting his semi-automatic handgun at a firing range.” = ATF investigation

      I don’t think it was a conspiracy, but I’ll bet the US.gov top brass love that everything is called a “drone” now – this language will work to soften the fact that we (the USA) are remotely killing people with (long range, armed, completely autonomous drones) and will scare everyone writing laws for them domestically.

      I’m with mcnugget: Stop calling them drones – and hat tip for HaD editors on the article title.

  7. Slalom seems pretty dangerous all by itself. Risk from sanctioned camera drones seems negligible by comparison. Even a great pilot can make a mistake, a great drone can suffer failure. A proper investigation is needed to discover what happened, and see if it can be avoided in the future; but “ban the drones” isn’t a solution in my opinion. Face it, they’re going to become an increasingly common part of things.

  8. Just a note on human thinking “how do you get better rules enforced?”
    first create a problem the create several paid for instances of chaos surrounding something.
    Use these instances to forward your agenda and bring new rules to the table.. strict rules..
    rules that ruin a hobby because some one was butthurt.

  9. The questions that the ISF have to ask themselves is-
    1- Is a shot made by a drone any better coverage then what we are able to achieve?
    2- Is the inherent risk of a flying object overhead of the course worth the shots being achieved?

    My guess, after the crash, is that they answered maybe to the first question and absolutely not to the second. It’s not a matter of whether or not it was a freak accident or not, it’s a question of whether the risk of it happening again worth it the cost of potentially wreaking an athletes career or not.

    To blanket the accident with the notion that doesn’t matter because liability insurance would have covered damages is a very crude and immature way of dealing with the issue. That’s why there are strict commercial plane maintenance rules and various other rules regulating a multitude of aspects of life. Yes liability may cover it but that doesn’t mean we want air planes falling out of the sky all the time because someone decided it’s cheaper to pay out an insurance than it is to maintain an airplane.
    If you want to gamble go to Vegas, throw yourself off a cliff B.A.S.E. jumping, put a single bullet in a six shooter and pull the trigger while pointing it at your head, I could care less…. But in “controlled” public places people should be able to expect a certain amount of freedom from the fear of bad things happening at any given moment. (Not that I don’t think accidents don’t happen, and also acknowledge we live in an age when random acts of violence seriously impedes on that notion of safety) I loathe thinking about the day some idiots drone falls and kills someone because that will a totally pointless useless loss of life that no amount of reasoning or liability insurance will ever afford any sort comfort.

    1. “freedom from fear” – I see what you did there. The classic dichotomy being freedom vs. safety.

      Meanwhile in Norway, a woman gets killed by a flagpole toppling over. I bet half my rear there is a petition on facebook to ban unmanned flagpoles.

  10. looks like a quad, how about we start making some redundancy features mandatory for when safety is important like on events like this.

    Like minimum 6 props, 2 batteries, 2 flight computers, 2 IMU, parachute, ..

    it would be a shame not to use multirotors to film these events.

    1. Thing is, if one battery fails due to temperature, the other one’s not likely to last much longer, it’s only dumb luck that you’re relying on then. Same with IMU etc.

      Maybe some sort of heating system, I mentioned one in my other post. A handwarmer about twice the size of a Zippo, that uses lighter petrol and a catalyst for long-lasting flameless heat. Put all the sensitive bits, batteries and IMU, perhaps not near the heater itself, but have a couple of radiators leading out. Experimentation would be needed. Catalytic heaters can be absolutely tiny, and run off butane if liquid fuel is a problem. Butane’s handy cos it evaporates away almost instantly, in case of a leak. A small amount of pressurised gas isn’t dangerous.

    2. Redundancy only goes so far. A broken prop will cause so much vibration that the flight controller’s sensors won’t be able to get accurate readings. This will cause the ‘copter to be uncontrollable (I know this from direct experience). There would be no way that even multiple flight controllers will be able to deal with these vibrations.

      Parachutes are only good if the ‘copter is flying at high altitudes — it takes something on the order of at least 100’ (or more) for a parachute to deploy and become effective. These camera platforms are flying lower than that, so a parachute would not be effective for this use. Not to mention that now you have the potential of the rotors tangling the parachute’s shroud lines… plus the weight of the ‘chute and deployment mechanism.

      Bottom line: These sorts of camera platforms should never be flown over events where people are gathered. Human error — as well as the sudden, unexpected attention of a certain Mr. Murphy — can easily lead to a bad scenario.

      Sure, there’s risk everywhere, but that doesn’t mean you don’t try to minimize risk where you can. In the case of these events, spectators assume the risks of being hit by crashing cars, baseballs, skiers, etc. in trade for the benefit of being there to observe the event. In the case of the camera ‘copters, viewers at home, watching on TV are the beneficiaries, while the spectators and participants are the ones who get exposed to the increased risk.

      Clearly, I am not an anti-‘copter guy — I build and fly model airplanes and have recently ventured into the multi-rotor world. But I do all of my flying away from areas where a mistake or malfunction could result in harming anyone.

      1. it did not even fall in his path, and wouldnot have caused serious injury. It’s a camera, and some quadcopter bits, not an anvil.

        Shouldn’t be really scary to someone who has fun doing 80mph down a mountain on a couple sticks.

        That said, using them for video at events like this is completely stupid. There is no need for it, they have had cable cams forever that do just fine. Only a moron would think it a good idea to use a quadcopter to get action shots at sporting events. I’ve been flying airplanes for 20 years or so, and quads too for about 3. I crash all the time. It is not any unusual event, not for anyone who isn’t satisfied with slow, careful and nervous flying around the back yard. It happens. You wouldn’t find me flying over my neighbors backyard, let alone anywhere near groups of people, and that is why. Nobody who had any knowledge of the things whatsoever and had any sense would ever dream of allowing them to fly over sporting events. Totally unnecessary silliness.

    1. The skier reported that he felt the ‘copter’s impact. That’s close enough to call a dangerous situation for me.

      Besides, even if it was 5 or 6 feet, would you be as nonchalant if a brick fell from a hundred feet up on building and land 5 or 6 feet from you? Or would you have been a tad perturbed?

      1. I would be very nonchalant about it. What would you do, pitch a fit, cry alot, fake an injury, sue them for damages like the PTSD caused by the incident? BTW, a brick falling on you from 100′ is alot different thing than a quadcopter hitting you, faling from less than half that, while you are wearing a helmet. He might have been injured during the following crash, but the quadcopter would not have hurt him. Please get real.

  11. I think it was just a freak accident waiting to happen, for that matter, i bet that someone will get a drone in their face, break a nose, and become world-famous in 2016, drones are used in large numbers, espcially during events like these, so accidents/failures are bound to happen.

    I wouldn’t ban the drones, i would just create some strict rules, if you drop a drone, you get a big fine, if anybody gets hurt from it, you pay all the medical bills and whoever was flying isnt allowed to fly drones for a year, and has to do some mandatory courses or something.

  12. there seems to be a misconseption about who is responsible for camera operations. skiing events like this one are organised by the fis. one camera team (usually from the govt. tv station) is operating all cameras, does post-prod. and sends out a live stream to the other countries’ tv stations who add in their own moderators and push it to the ether.

    so ‘banning drones’ is just the fis saying: ‘please stick to crane-mounted or ziplined cameras’.

    1. That’s right. It wasn’t clear to me from the articles I read if the production company doing the filming was the only one there, or if it was just one of many. But they were officially allowed, and just strayed out of the safe zone.

      The FIS rules clearly stated that the quad wasn’t to be flown above people. That didn’t happen. Ban drones or ban that production company?

  13. it is so damn simple… just don’t fly over anybody/anything but yourself !! If you are thinking about anything else you really need to be 200% sure of the reliability of the device, then all the hardware needs to be improved. For now even the professional drones run on “hobby” grade hardware. You don’t get any kind of safety guarantee on flights controller, motors and anything else that make the drone fly. My guess is then don’t fly if there is any chance of someone getting hurt. Loosing control of those multi-rotor is so easy even for a trained pilot, it just need a wind burst, a faulty prop, an intermitent radio connection… the slightest disturbance can make the all thing goes crazy on you. It is already weird that they allowed it 15 meters away from the skier since even at this distance the thing could have drifted onto the skier trajectory in a case of malfunction.

  14. Why can’t quadcopters have automatic parachutes?
    They would be fired automatically from a tiny magnesium strip upon loss of watchdog signal from the controller or from an affirmative emergency signal from the controller detecting rapid falling.

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