Hate traffic noise? Just wait until drone buzz becomes more common

(Image credit: Kristīne Lamberte )

Maybe you've heard a drone in flight, maybe you haven't. Either way, the chances are good that you're going to be hearing drones a lot more in the future, as their popularity rockets.

This might not be good news, however, because a Nasa study has found that people find drone buzz a whole lot more annoying than that of ground vehicles, even when the two sounds are played at the same volume.

In tests conducted in an acoustic study center in Hampton, Virginia, 38 people were played a collection of different traffic noises – including cars, trucks and drones, without being told the source of the noise. They were then asked to rate each one on a scale of least to most annoying.

Twice as close as a car

The results were stark. The extra irritation experienced by the study volunteers when listening to drone noises was as if they were twice as close as a car. “We didn’t go into this test thinking there would be this significant difference,” study co-author Andrew Christian told New Scientist.

One possible reason for this irritation, Christian said, was that drones move more slowly than cars do. A common complaint among the participants was that the drone sounds tended to linger for longer. "That could be a big part of it," he said.

It's hoped that the results of this research could help persuade drone manufacturers to build in countermeasures before complaints start - rather than afterwards. A noise-aware system, for example, could allow drones to understand how loud they are and modify their flight paths dynamically away from populated areas.

Duncan Geere
Duncan Geere is TechRadar's science writer. Every day he finds the most interesting science news and explains why you should care. You can read more of his stories here, and you can find him on Twitter under the handle @duncangeere.