Can a drone cut your finger off? Videos from experiments

Witnessing the speed and noise of a drone’s blades can cause to you wonder: Can a drone cut your finger off? As it’s whizzing over your head, past your face, or hand catching as you come into land – there’s no doubt that sometimes being in close contact to your done is inevitable! But what if you accidentally come a little too close…let’s find out

Can a drone cut your finger off? No, it cannot. While there no doubt that there’s plenty of evidence that a drone propeller (made of plastic or carbon fiber) can cause significant injury to the soft parts of your hand or finger – it simply doesn’t have enough power to get through the bone! There have been a number of experiments run with commercial and professional drones but none have been shown to be able to take off a finger! The blade would have to do it in one swoop – the drone blades just aren’t strong enough to get through bone!

If you google “drone injuries” there are certainly some scary examples of bloody fingers and bandage wrapped digits. This man from the UK was unfortunate enough to have his indecent on his first-ever drone flight! Talk about unlucky!

Most of us, however, will never have to worry about making the news for any of our injuries – but I’m sure every drone pilot will tell you about a near miss or incident of their own.

If you are interested in the types of drone incidents from around the world – check out this map of world wide drone incidents.

It seems that the biggest threat that drones pose is to aircraft, not human fingers! But what sort of damage can a drone do you get if you get too close.

I even have my own video showing what happened while catching my DJI Mavic Air.

Can a drone cut you?

Ask the internet a question and I’m sure that there are plenty of people willing to do the experiment for you – this one is no exception – you’d expect it from the myth busters crew but science has been pitching in too!

What the science says

Researchers from Aalborg University in Denmark have been testing the damage caused by a range of propellers. They have been using them to cause a range of damage to pork (as it is one of the closest things to human muscle and skin). They also took the propellers to other materials like glass and cars too… all in the name of science!

The researchers strapped a large slab of pork to the end of a ramp. The ramp was used to fire the blades towards the meat and contained the blades spinning at precisely controlled RPMs. The actual catapult is nearly three meters long and built of aluminum. The slide is pulled by an electric motor. It can accelerate a 1-kilogram drone up to 15 meters per second and the collision is filmed with a high-speed camera with over 3000 frames per second. The force of impact is measured over time as this is important for the extent of the injury. Once the researchers get more experienced, the plan is to upgrade the catapult for larger drones and higher speeds.

Here’s some fascinating super slow mo of plastic blades hitting the meat:

The scientists discovered that plastic blades shatter pretty much on impact while carbon fiber blades (known for their strength) can do a lot more damage. These were only the beginnings of a research study and they are planning on working more with hospitals as drone injuries become a more common occurrence.

“The first attempts are interesting because they clearly show what could happen when a regular hobby drone hits a human being. But it’s too early to conclude anything,”

“Particularly in the tests simulating collisions with people, it is necessary to do it absolutely right and verify that the results are reliable. The university is thus working with Aalborg University Hospital to conduct experiments that can help us better understand how dangerous drones really are.”

Anders la Cour-Harbo, Drone Lab director

The super slow-motion video is cool and all – but it doesn’t really give you a real taste of how fast the blades were hitting the meat. so here it is in real-time:

So, the video suggests that no fingers will be able to be removed. But that doesn’t mean that maybe thay can be removed under some circumstances.

When you want science on steroids – there’s only one team that you can turn to – the Mythbusters.

What the Mythbusters say

What do you get when you combine a chicken on a pole with two mad “scientsts” – a hit TV show!

Here’s a video of the experiments that the popular TV show ran to answer the question of drone safety. This investigation looked at commercial (home) drones that you can buy without a license. Of course, drones can get much larger and you need a license to fly anything substantial. But we’ll look at that in just a moment.

Here’s what the Mythbusters found:

One thing you’ll notice is that the propellers were held against the skin for a long period of time. In real life, the drone is likely to bounce off the point of impact (you or our fingers) and crash to the ground.

The drone therefore is going to have to take your finger of in one fell swoop – and that means getting through the bone too! Something that the plastic of the blades is unlikely to be able to do – even with a super strong motor.

This doesn’t stop the team making the worst case scenario. You’ll be surprised with what happens to the neck of this dummy:

You’ll see that even using some pretty serious blades and holding them close to the neck for a long period of time – no thing more than flesh wounds are admisitered to the dummy!

So even this dangerous duo couldn’t take off a finger!

Fingers are the most likely to come close to the blades of a drone and I even had my own close call:

Drone finger injuries

During 2019 and early 2020 I used my drone a lot for vlogging and showing people what my daily routine looked like as a start up founder. I even fancied myself as a little bit of a Casey Neistat for a little while!

I loved the dynamic that it gave to my videos – but as you get more and more used to flying and more comfortable getting close to the drone – that is when you are most likely to get hurt. Just like I experienced:

My experience with my drone infury was three fold:

  • The bruising from the injury was worse than the cuts that I got.
  • It was no worse than the time I took off the top of my finger with a cheese grater
  • It was all healed up after two weeks with no lasting scarring – just a lesson learned!

From my research online this is my understand of most people’s experience with drone injuries and still no evidence that it could take off your finger in any sense.

Still these are examples from commercial grade drones maybe professional and higher powered drones could take off your finger. Some of the most powerful drones include:

  • DROIDWORX SKYJIB AIRFRAME
  • AIBOTIX AIBOT X6 UAV DRONE

These have heavy listing capabilities from lifting DSLRs and other sensors. Perhaps getting in the way of these would cause more damage.

But given the fact that most blades are made from materials softer than bone – I’d say it is still unlikely that any of them will be able to take a finger clean off!

Drone safety systems

There are a number of companies looking at making drones safer. One example is the Safety rotor system developed by a team from the University of Queensland.

This system uses a series of lightweight plastic hoops around each one of the drones blades. This is explained in the following videoL

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton is a writer and YouTuber with a PhD in science. He has written and/or produced videos for Science Alert, COSMOS magazine, and Australia's Science Channel among others. Andy started droneflyingpro.com to share his love and the research of all things drone! He has been a drone pilot for many years and has flown many types of drone. His favorite is still the DJI Mavic Air for the portability and functionality packed into a small and portable drone!