On 6 December, techUK invited speakers specialising in drone technology and enabling services to map out the next steps in realising the benefits drones can make to business and wider society, and offered solutions to the current obstacles to greater drone adoption. We have gathered some of the key take-aways from the day below.
Where we are now
To increase drone adoption it is important to understand the UK’s current position and use of drones. In the opening keynote, PwC’s Elaine Whyte highlighted that in the last 20 years the defence sector has seen an uptake in drone technology to reduce the risk to life, for example, allowing foot soldiers to see around a corner. The safety benefits of Drones’ create a clear business case for their use in defence – but how can we increase the awareness of their commercial benefits? In their Drones report, PwC underlines the market opportunity offered by Drones, finding that 80% of people were happy to see drones support public safety uses but only 26% were supportive of drones being used to deliver parcels or pizzas. To make drones more attractive to businesses and the public, our speakers addressed their obstacles and proposed viable solutions which we have summarised below.
Challenges and Solutions
Public acceptance is the main challenge that our speakers returned to throughout the day. ARPAS’ Graham Brown raised the disconnect between public imagination and future aims of the drone industry, noting that people focus on potential services such as the delivery of consumer goods rather than transformative uses like surveying agricultural land. On top of that, PwC found that since the Gatwick incident 66% of the public say they trust drones less. To achieve a more widespread social acceptance and understanding the industry needs to highlight public-friendly explanations addressing the uses, accountability, security and regulation of drones. Bird & Bird’s Simon Phippard also emphasised that the government needs to work with policy makers, academic and tech players to ascertain public safety and necessary regulation. One solution proposed at the event that would work to improve drone safety is Yoti’s digital identities which ties a registered drone to a flyer ID, potentially preventing incidents like the one at Gatwick. An obstacle that needs further addressing however is the public’s scepticism of the security and privacy of drone data collection and sharing, a process which Deloitte’s James Cranswick suggests will become as normalised as CCTV.
To increase industry engagement, Connected Places Catapult’s Mark Westwood highlighted the importance of building an ecosystem of businesses collaborating on delivering accessible data from drones, as well as the necessary infrastructure, such as drone airports. This collaboration on drone technology is evidenced by DARTeC, a project that showcases the work of Thales and other key players with Connected Places Catapult. It aims to address the challenges facing the aviation industry such as, the safe and reliable integration of drones into shared, civilian airspace through data communications, and to eventually provide self-sensing and self-learning drones. Currently, drone reliability and precision can be increased through the application of What3Words, which as Charlie Wilson explained during the event, improves on the archaic and ineffective addressing system by generating exact locations through unique and simplified 3-word addresses. Moreover, the ease of drone use can be improved through democratising airspace, a modification which Deloitte’s James Cranswick predicts will facilitate organisation engagement in novel and flexible ways.
Lastly, to prevent a skills gap in this field, government and academia need to work together to provide education that trains people to build, operate and fix drones. This is crucial as PwC has predicted that 628,000 jobs will be created in this environment, generating many employment and sector opportunities.
Drones for Good
Drones present many public benefits such as productivity and safety. Graham Brown noted that substituting people with drones in dangerous workspaces, such as working at heights, would reduce the incidence of death and simplify tasks as drones can be operated from a safe distance. As mentioned previously, drone presence would facilitate the collection of data, and due to their working size and altitude would cause less interference to the public than current data collection methods.
Secondly, drones’ environmental benefits cannot be understated as they are electrified and would work to reduce pollution and congestion specifically in populated areas. This zero-carbon aviation solution would work well with the UK’s aim to reach its carbon-zero goal by 2050, enabling the economy towards greener services.
The economic benefits of drones are outlined in The PwC Drones report which estimates that drones could generate £42 billion for the UK economy by 2030, including £60 billion of productivity savings. The economic potential of drones is great as ARPAS relates that 33% of sectors that are currently not using drones are likely to benefit from them.
Deloitte’s James Cranswick anticipates that in the upcoming decade, drones will operate in a big way in every sector and all aspects of public life, from package delivery to Urban Air Mobility (“flying taxis”). Therefore, it is important for the UK to promptly position itself as a leading economy successfully navigating drone regulation and uptake to deliver its benefits.
If you would like to increase your company’s engagement with all things Drones, techUK is running a Drones campaign week from the 13 to 17 January 2020. We are looking for content submissions in the form of insights, videos, podcast contributions which aim to rebalance the public debate and discussion on drones. For more information on this fantastic opportunity please click here.