Digital infrastructureSmart CitiesPublic concern remains a barrier to drone adoption

Public concern remains a barrier to drone adoption

More than a third (35%) of business leaders believe drone adoption are not happening in their industry because of these negative perceptions

According to new research from PwC, public perception remains a barrier to drone uptake in the UK.

PwC’s latest research ‘Building trust in drones – the importance of education, accountability and reward’ – based on a survey of the public and business leaders on their attitudes towards drones and its regulation – makes clear that business sees low public confidence in drone technology as a barrier to business development.

Less than a third of the public, (31%) feel positively towards drones, while more than two thirds are concerned about the potential use of drones for criminal purposes. This contrasts with 56% of business leaders who are positive about drones and their benefits. Including those already using drones in their business this rises to 83%.

More than a third (35%) of business leaders believe drones are not being adopted in their industry because of these negative perceptions. This is despite 43% of those surveyed believing their industry would benefit from drone use.

Clear disparities in attitudes

Elaine Whyte, UK drones leader at PwC, commented: There are clear disparities in attitudes towards drones between business and the wider public. It is also strikingly clear that the potential of drone technologies is not fully understood. The drone community across industry, government and civil society needs to change the public discourse from one of uncertainties and toys, to one of opportunity and accountability.

“This can be achieved through better education on the wealth of use cases for drones, as well as increasing understanding of regulation and accountability. The public will only trust a new technology if they understand who is regulating and providing oversight.

“At PwC, we completed our first stock count audit last year using drones and our research has found that drones could add an additional £42bn to the UK economy by 2030. To really achieve these positive outcomes the drone community has much to do to educate wider society.”

Aviation Minister Baroness Vere said: “Drones could transform how we move people and goods around, boosting our economy and even saving lives.

“A drone used safely and responsibly is a great asset, which is why the Government is encouraging innovation and the development of technology in its forthcoming Aviation Strategy and Future Flight Challenge.”

Education, accountability and enforcement

Underpinning the negative perception of drones is a lack of understanding from both business and the public. Just over half (53%) of business leaders admit that there is a lack of understanding of drones in general, so they are not considered for their business.

In terms of accountability and regulation, 70% of the public would not feel confident in identifying drones being misused. This lack of understanding about regulation and responsibility clearly underpins uncertainty and negative perceptions more broadly. Responsibility for flying drones also remains a contentious issue with 96% of the public wanting the owners to have a minimum age limit and 77% believing that limit should be 16 or above.

Enforcement is perhaps the only area where business leaders and the public agree with 85% of business leaders and 83% of the public believing that in the event of a serious drone incident, relevant authorities should be able to take decisive actions –  including forcibly removing drones from the sky.

Opportunities and challenges

Last year, Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre, in partnership with Innovate UK, released its findings from the first phase of the Flying High programme, outlining the opportunities and challenges for implementing drone technology in UK cities.

The key findings from this phase of Flying High, which featured a number of work streams including public impact analysis, systems research, industry mapping and key stakeholder engagement, are outlined below:

  • Drones can bring benefits to UK cities – cities are excited about the possibilities that drones can bring, particularly in terms of critical public services, but are also wary of tech-led buzz that can gloss over concerns of privacy, safety and nuisance. Cities want to seize the opportunity behind drones but do it in a way that responds to what their citizens demand.
  • Public confidence is key – thanks to Flying High, cities are starting to think about what drones should and should not do, but so far the general public has played very little role. There is support for the use of drones for public benefit such as for the emergency services. In the first instance, the focus on drone development should be on publicly beneficial use cases.
  • There are technical and regulatory challenges to scale – the five cities examined a wide array of tasks that drones can perform. In complex environments, flight beyond the operator’s visual line of sight, autonomy and precision flight are key, as is the development of an unmanned traffic management (UTM) system to safely manage airspace. In isolation these are close to being solved – but making these work at large scale in a complex urban environment is not. While there is demand for all of the use cases that were investigated, the economics of the different use cases vary: some bring clear cost savings; others bring broader social benefits. Alongside technological development, regulation needs to evolve to allow these use cases to operate. And infrastructure like communications networks and UTM systems will need to be built.
  • A vision for the future – there is growing alignment between the key stakeholders – government, industry, regulators – on what the future of drones should look like in the UK. Prior to the Flying High project beginning, there was surprisingly little coordination between key players, and cities were largely absent from the discussion. This momentum needs to be kept up – and the public urgently need to be brought into discussions about the future of drones.

Last September, Oxford Direct Services (ODS), the service delivery and commercial arm of Oxford City Council, had announced that they will be providing drone-based services to include roof and building surveying, land mapping, aerial photography and filming. Drones are seen as a clean, environmentally friendly, relatively quiet and unobtrusive way of surveying.

The drone code

There are rules outlining drone use in the UK.

From 30 November 2019, operators of drones between 250g and 20kg will be required to register and drone pilots take an online competency test. This will improve accountability of drone use and ensure the UK’s skies are safer from irresponsible flyers.

It is against the law to fly a drone above 400ft or within 5km of airport runways. Recklessly or negligently endangering an aircraft with a drone it is a criminal offence and invokes a prison sentence for up to five years. The intentional use of a device to commit an act of violence at an airport which could cause death, serious personal injury or endanger safe operations could result in life in prison, under the Aviation and Maritime Security Act. It is against the law to fly a drone near an airport or airfield.

Drones with an operating mass of more than 20 kg are subject to the whole of the UK Aviation regulations (as listed within the UK Air Navigation Order – ANO).

The Government is strengthening powers to help police enforce drone rules. A new Drones Bill will give the police the power to land, seize and search drones with a warrant.

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