Majority uncomfortable with prospect of commercial drone use, research finds

Privacy issues are the most common source of unease among Irish people

A ‘No Drone Zone’ sign on the perimeter fence of Dublin airport Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

A ‘No Drone Zone’ sign on the perimeter fence of Dublin airport Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

The vast majority of people in Ireland are uncomfortable with the prospect of commercial drone use, and privacy issues are the most common source of unease, new research has found.

Although the drone sector continues to grow, particularly in commercial applications, there remains much to be done to conquer public suspicion surrounding the technology.

Controversies such as the mass disruption to flights at London’s Gatwick Airport over Christmas have done little to further the cause for those keen to foster public acceptance of unmanned aircraft in the skies.

Research conducted at the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School has identified key issues around understanding and trust.

Data from a survey of 850 business leaders and consumers, conducted on behalf of PwC, gives some insight into public perceptions and how they may be altered.

Drone potential

It found 88 per cent of respondents believe public perceptions of drones are negative with 85 per cent “lukewarm” about their commercial use. A similar proportion of people (80 per cent) pointed to privacy as their main concern.

“Drones present enormous potential to enrich the power of data analytics and the Internet of Things,” said Kathleen O’Reilly of the Smurfit Graduate Business School.

“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.”

Despite the high level of trepidation, the study has a silver lining for the industry – almost three-quarters (73 per cent) of those who voiced concerns said that they would be “significantly more comfortable” if they knew who was operating the machines.

“The research confirms that the perceived uneasiness around drone technology could be challenged if the public was better informed,” it said.

Drone based technology is under constant development but restriction, often based around such public discomfort, is a major inhibitor.

So are the controversies – apart from significant recent disruption to flights in the UK, drones often attract the wrong kind of publicity for those who would seek to promote their potential.

“As with all new technology, it will take time to fully understand the potential opportunities and threats that this technology poses,” explained Richard Donelan of the Unmanned Aircraft Association of Ireland (UAAI), who said while there is strong regulatory oversight and high levels of professionalism in Ireland, enforcement of errant behaviour is a challenge.