Going public with the drone message

Imagine a world where no humans were placed in harm's way.

Take that further, where lives are saved, eco systems, flora and fauna are protected. Forest fires are extinguished.

Add to those laudable goals, a system where all people can access medicine, even in the most hard to reach and hostile places.

Migrants at peril on the oceans are spotted before disasters.

Threatened wildlife species are protected from poachers and illegal drugs runners and people smugglers are identified and prosecuted.

Believe it or not, those scenarios are being realised in increasing measures through the development and deployment of drone technology of various shapes and sizes. It seems self-evident that drones can be and in many cases are a force for good, but the narrative is all too easily hijacked by the shock horror stories of real or imagined interference with flights at Heathrow and Gatwick or farther afield, lethal military strikes.

In the UK we already witness drones working with blue light services including police, fire, medical and rescue organisations, in addition to local authorities and public utilities.

The figures are impressive, in terms of contribution to the UK’s economy. According to PwC report Drones impact on the UK economy, deploying drones to transform working practices could boost Britain’s economy by £42bn by 2030. Increased use of drones, in sectors from construction or defence to energy or logistics, will employ hundreds of thousands of people and lift GDP by almost 2%. PwC predicts cost savings of £16bn annually through their use and estimates that in the long run there will be 628,000 people working in the drone economy, potentially in more highly skilled jobs overall, including building and programming the devices.

Research from Nesta Challenges’ Flying High programme, which analyses how drones can provide benefits to UK cities, reveals that the use of drones - for services such as blood sample transport by regional pathology units and the NHS - could save the public sector £1.1bn by 2035. The Nesta report, 'Flying high - Seizing the opportunity', supported by Innovate UK - and with economic forecasting by PwC, looks into the economic benefits to the UK public sector.

In addition to the savings, the report found that drones to support the delivery of public services in urban areas could increase UK GDP by £6.9 billion in the next 15 years.

According to the report, drones could bring significant cost savings to the public and increase efficiencies for local councils providing public services. For example, they could support faster, more efficient transportation of medical supplies or blood samples, replacing the need for costly road transport vehicles, or help emergency services, like fire and police, to assess a scene before they arrive.

The role for drones in public services - from the perspective of aerial video technology - is spelt out in The View from Above: drones and public services - contributed by ARPAS UK , the UK Drone Association, which addresses the use of drones and how they can help the public sector save money and operate more efficiently.

Interestingly, according to the report, in 2017 Severn Trent Water’s drone usage saved £30,000. In 2018, they saved over £750,000 and more is yet to come. They use drones now to check the optimisation of treatment processes, thermal imaging of pipes to detect leakage and creating 3D models of assets.

More recently environmental solutions provider Veolia has listed the reasons why aerial inspection makes sense: Within 12 months they saved customers 150 days through reduced inspection time, generating savings of £85,000.

- Reduces cost of inspection, site surveillance and monitoring at height

- Reduces the risks associated with man entry into confined and hazardous spaces

- Removes the need for lifting equipment, rigging, scaffolding and traffic management

Meanwhile, just this month (January 2020) the UK government gave the green light to the adoption of drones by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), following trials.

The NDA, in a case study: ‘Decommissioning drones take to the sky’ revealed that information gathered by the drones had removed the necessity of working at heights and exposure of radiation to operators. The organisation concluded that this approach has delivered savings in time and also money, compared to traditional manual methods.

Inspection and fault alerts are just some of the benefits of drone surveillance and reporting - and that covers a multitude of applications from housing, highways, bridges and infrastructure to public events, energy production, processing and manufacturing plants.

When I met with Graham Brown CEO of ARPAS UK at the Commercial UAV Show, he was concerned that the negative narrative was taking over and that the drone industry needs to develop public and stakeholder education to get the positive message across.

Summed up by four main reasons for deploying drones in public services: they’re safer, faster, cheaper and greener. As ARPAS UK states: The emergence of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) as a resource for a wide variety of public and private applications quite possibly represents one of the most significant advancements to aviation, the scientific community, and public service since the beginning of flight. Now we just need to ramp up the stakeholder education programme! For more market insight check out Droning on in a Dynamic Market Where the Sky’s the Limit

For more information from Philip Hicks click here.

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