Drone technology is taking off, but there are still grounds for concern

Potential uses include food delivery, civil defence and emergency response, but consumers worry about safety and privacy

Drone technology has the potential to help local government to deliver better, safer and more efficient services, but key issues such as trust, safety and privacy must be addressed before it can reach its full potential, new research has found.

And although “progressive” policies by the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) and programmes such as Smart Dublin have put Ireland and Dublin at the forefront in the use of drones in Europe, experts said, there will also need to be significant collaboration to move it to the next stage.

The report on international best practice and future trends in the use of drone technology was part of a project to accelerate its potential across local government in Ireland.

Although the majority of respondents (84 per cent) said they felt positive about drone technologies — with more than two-thirds of people confident that they could be delivering mail across the State by 2025, and more than half sure that takeaways will come by drone in the same period — a number of key concerns were also raised.


Three-quarters of those surveyed said trust would need to be addressed, while 54 per cent raised privacy issues and 50 per cent were concerned that safety would need to be addressed before the technology could reach its full potential.

Among the potential uses for drones are civil defence, emergency response, public safety and environmental monitoring. Drone deliveries are already being rolled out by Irish company Manna, and US-based drone company ZenaDrone recently launched in Ireland, targeting the agricultural sector among others.

“Drones are being deployed globally by local governments, fire services and emergency responders to deliver significant benefits to communities,” said Philip Butterworth Hayes, a leading international expert and joint author of the best-practice report. “We are just at the start of this revolution happening in our skies. Increased technology advances will make it possible to automate and scale these services globally, while it’s only a matter of time before we see passenger services being rolled out. Paris is likely to be the first city in Europe to operate electric air taxi services, as early as 2024, in time for the Olympic Games.”

The project was co-funded by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform’s public service Innovation Fund and led by Dublin City Council’s Smart Dublin team.

“The city council, through its fire services, building control and survey and mapping teams, are using drone technologies to allow us to work more safely and efficiently,” said Owen Keegan, chief executive of Dublin City Council. “As we start to consider how we scale these operations, it is critical that we continue to do so in a way that builds trust with our communities. I’m delighted to see the Smart Dublin team drive this project with the support of such a wide range of collaborators across industry and academia.”

Maynooth University’s Prof Tim McCarthy, who co-authored the report, highlighted the importance of collaboration, if Ireland is to realise the potential of drones.

“To move to the next stage, there needs to be significant collaboration with local authorities, industry, the IAA, communities and other Government agencies to collectively roll out these new technologies and to shape a future where drones are helping to support communities in automated environmental monitoring and specialist support services,” he said.

“We are already witnessing an increasing array of developments in the drone industry including robotic platforms and multimodal sensor technologies coupled with machine-learning processors which are helping us to monitor and manage our urban spaces, delivering more efficient services and improving our overall quality of life. These new technologies and services also give rise to real opportunities to create new jobs and drive innovation.”

The report was launched by Minister of State for Public Procurement and eGovernment Ossian Smyth. I am delighted to see organisations such as Dublin City Council, the Local Government Management Association, the Irish Aviation Authority, Maynooth University and others come together to think about current and future applications of drone technology and to map out how we can all collaborate to maximise the benefits of these technologies,” he said, adding that the public service Innovation Fund “was designed to support projects like this that are driving innovation across the sector”.

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist