Athlete Struck By Potentially Hacked Aerial Drone

An athlete competing at an Australian triathlon was sent to hospital after an aerial camera drone suddenly swooped down and smashed into her. The operator of the UAV claims someone nearby "channel hopped" the device — wresting control away from him.

The camera drone was hovering above athletes competing in Geraldton's Endure Batavia Triathlon when the operator, Warren Abrams of New Era Photography and Film, says he lost control. It dropped about 32 feet (10 meters) and crashed into Raija Ogden. She was treated at the scene of the incident before being taken to hospital where stitches were applied to close a head wound.

Athlete Struck By Potentially Hacked Aerial Drone

"I have lacerations on my head from the drone and the ambulance crew took a piece of propeller from my head," Ogden told Network World. "My hair was completely red with blood. I didn't hit the ground."

Athlete Struck By Potentially Hacked Aerial Drone

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports on how a mobile phone could have been used to hack into the drone:

Mr Abrams said an initial investigation had indicted that someone nearby "channel hopped" the device, taking control away from the operator.

Channel hopping is a form of hacking which can render the drone uncontrollable to the original operator.

Mr Abrams said it was a deliberate act and it would be difficult to determine who was responsible as something as common as a mobile phone could be used to perform a channel hop.

The videographer added that there had been a similar incident when the drone was flown earlier in the day.

He said a full check was conducted and the device was taken elsewhere for a test flight, but he said no issues were detected.

CASA spokesman Peter Gibson said he was confident sophisticated drones used in commercial operations would not be able to be controlled or hacked in that way.

"[But] the simpler ones that you can go down to a store and buy, maybe that is possible given that they're that much more basic," he said.

The ABC also spoke to security expert Mike Johnstone who claims that some drones may indeed be vulnerable to electronic hijacking, adding that "The video stream... whether we could take that over or intercept that... it looks like at the moment that is potentially possible."

It's also possible, of course, that Abrams simply lost control of the drone because he didn't know what he was doing. According to the ACUO, he doesn't have the proper certification to fly the device.

Regardless, the incident points to the growing danger posed by devices that can easily be hacked into — and then be made to turn against us.

Images via Everything Geraldton.