The public perception of drones is still negative

13 Feb 2019

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Tangible use cases have to be determined for these eyes in the sky to be trusted by the public, according to new research.

Businesses and consumers are still uneasy about drones and the overwhelming impression of the airborne technology is negative, research by business students at University College Dublin (UCD) has revealed.

Research carried out by students of the master’s in management consulting at UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School on behalf of PwC reveals that the majority (88pc) of Irish business leaders and consumers believe the public perception of drones is negative. The research also reveals that most (85pc) are lukewarm about commercial drone use.

‘The true power of drones comes from the rapid data collection capabilities, combined with sensors and AI’

However, the survey indicates that Irish business leaders and consumers would be more comfortable with the aerial devices being used if they knew the purpose. Nearly three-quarters (73pc) who voiced concerns about the technology said they would be significantly more comfortable if they knew who was operating the drone. The research confirms that the perceived uneasiness around drone technology could be challenged if the public was better informed.

The lack of knowledge around the flying machines is not only evident in a public audience, but also in companies currently utilising drone technology. For example, more than half (58pc) of business leaders who have previously used drones believe they lack drone knowledge. The survey suggests that companies using drone technology should place greater emphasis on educating their workforce and a significant effort must be made to increase and improve the information available to the public regarding such technology.

More than 80pc of respondents cited privacy as their main concern around the use of drones, indicating that a level of trust and transparency must be established for their use.

“Drones present enormous potential to enrich the power of data analytics and the internet of things [IoT],” said Kathleen O’Reilly from the UCD Smurfit School.

“It is well recognised that drones are the platform while the real value comes from the attached technologies and their insights. However, caution needs to be exercised over privacy and safety concerns. The survey suggests more awareness and education is needed around drone technology, which would likely ease the pressures around their use.”

Essential Eight

Despite the uneasiness around these eyes in the sky, drones have been explicitly labelled by PwC as one of the ‘Essential Eight’ technologies that matter most for business across every industry over the next three to five years.

The Essential Eight building blocks are: artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality, blockchain, drones, IoT, robotics, virtual reality and 3D printing.

PwC digital director Ronan Fitzpatrick said that to increase knowledge of drones, it must first be recognised that drones are simply a platform and that the real value comes from the associated insights that can be gleaned from the analysis of large datasets provided by this platform.

“We are seeing drone platforms in use in diverse industries such as energy, agriculture, infrastructure and construction. PwC has estimated that that the global market in drone-powered solutions for the power and utilities industry is worth $9.46bn a year.

“For example, the power and utilities sector faces numerous new challenges as it stands on the threshold of a digital revolution. Pressure to shift to renewables from fossil fuels, while reducing prices, is forcing companies to look for new ways to stay profitable. As companies reinvent their business models, drones are helping increase the reliability of energy production, transmission and distribution.

“The true power of drones comes from the rapid data collection capabilities, combined with sensors and AI, in a device which can be controlled remotely or flown automatically. Whilst the use of the data may vary by industry, drones can provide an increasingly feasible and accelerated means of gathering that data,” Fitzpatrick added.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years