CONTRIBUTOR
Techstrong Group

The current state of drone technology provides a glimpse into the future of innovation, but also one into the past. Dating back to the early 20th century, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were used in a military application. From World War I to World War II, to the post-war era, drones have been a mainstay in our society. Looking forward, drones tend to spur futuristic thoughts, in which the technology can be a catalyst for innovation commercially, agriculturally and beyond. 

With this outlook comes disparity in the levels of support for drone adoption. In a recent survey of more than 500 U.S. adults, commissioned by satellite and cellular connectivity specialists Ground Control, this disparity is explored, as well as the barriers inhibiting wide scale adoption of commercial and military drones. 

Alastair MacLeod, CEO of Ground Control, explains that the level of support for drone technology is influenced by technological familiarity, among other factors. 

“It’s probably more about what those not working in the technology think, than those that do,” MacLeod said. “Technology workers tend to be ‘early adopters’, and take a greater interest in what’s trending, and what’s on the horizon. Where drones are concerned, we may understand the technology better, what drives them, how they keep connected despite perhaps traveling in areas not typically well served by traditional cellular connectivity.”

Furthermore, this directly relates to the willingness people may have to trust up-and-coming technologies. Many professionals may be concerned with the direct implications of drone technology, as well as the threats it may pose, such as the likelihood of drones being hacked or compromised. 

There is also a major gap in support for drone applications between lower and higher income groups. 

“Most of the respondents who were from lower income groups worked in healthcare, agriculture or retail, so while we can’t say for sure, it’s possible that their reticence is due to concerns over job security,” MacLeod said. “Most respondents from the higher income groups worked in construction or technology, and as we’ve touched on, may have a greater propensity for openness towards this technology as a result.”

Given that health care workers showed less support for drone usage, there are numerous concerns, yet job security remains top of mind. 

“Our research found that health care professionals are the most likely group to cite job losses as a concern (38%). In addition, it could be argued that health care workers feel that medicines/prescriptions are such a sensitive issue that they shouldn’t be delivered by drones, lest they fail to deliver on time, to the right place or were intercepted,” MacLeod said. 

Despite this, steps can be taken to address these concerns and improve the comfort levels of those in health care, as well as other industries.  

“To mitigate these concerns, drone operators adhere to very stringent regulations, and as with all technological advancements, drones can augment health care professionals’ jobs, rather than replace them. As the drone industry grows, we anticipate greater awareness and education around them to support this,” MacLeod said. 

One use case points out that the benefits of drones in health care aren’t some distant possibility, they’re a reality. MacLeod points out the Skylift UAV team, which delivered chemotherapy drugs to patients on an island off the south coast of England. Skylift UAV built an autonomous eVTOL (electric, vertical take-off and landing) aircraft, which can fly for 1.5 hours on a single charge, with a maximum speed of 100 mph. 

“The drones are autonomous, but monitored by Skylift’s safety pilots, who can take control of the drone at any time,” MacLeod said. 

Beyond job security, there are concerns surrounding data security and privacy, which are prevalent in nearly all rising technologies. To address this, Ground Control’s report references Drone Law and Drone Attorney Assistance, which points out why privacy is unlikely to be a legal barrier to drone deliveries. 

In light of the many concerns and challenges facing drone adoption, it’s evident there are a slew of environmental benefits of drone technology in commercial applications. 

For one, sustainability is a hot button topic in nearly every sector, and the regulation of carbon emissions is specifically affecting the way many industries operate. 

“Drones present significant benefits in reducing carbon emissions compared to traditional transportation methods. Research conducted at Carnegie Mellon University revealed that drones used for last-mile delivery of small packages consumed up to 94% less energy per package than conventional vehicles,” MacLeod said. 

In addition, drones are being used to address other sustainability issues within our ecosystems. 

“The use of drones for commercial applications can aid vital conservation work,” MacLeod said. “To address the destruction of forests and natural habitats, the forest industry and governments are employing drone monitoring technology to offer a bird’s-eye view of real-time events, including natural disasters, or protecting forests and jungles from deforestation and fires.” 

The drone market has already grown exponentially, and it’s expected to continue to expand. With this, future developments and innovations may further extend the use cases and possibilities. 

“The next development will be the ability to pilot commercial drones BVLOS – Beyond Visual Line of Sight – which is holding back many use cases today. This is well under way to being achieved, with Iridium announcing very recently that they had secured the first FAA waiver for BVLOS commercial operation,” MacLeod said. “Next we’d anticipate drones being able to be piloted autonomously, which will allow them to perform much more intricate tasks than those where a human operator is involved.” 

Although there is a polarity to the acceptance of drone adoption, the technology unquestionably has the potential to transform our society on a commercial level. As with many new technologies, the usual concerns are evident. Job security, data and privacy, along with an overall fear of the unknown, leads to pushback on a large scale. However, with sustainability, medical application, and other inherent benefits, it appears that drones may be a clear example of what the future holds.