Drone flies over forest

7 in 10 Brits positive about wider use of drones in future

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The majority of people in the UK believe drones will positively impact their future, especially around crime prevention and improving safety in dangerous jobs, according to new research from BT and the 'Project XCelerate' consortium.

The research – conducted by Strive Insight and involving 2,000 nationally representative UK respondents – looked into public acceptance around the use of drones and found that nearly half (49 per cent) of the British public want to see drones used for risky jobs instead of people, specifically in firefighting (76 per cent) and inspecting infrastructure (70 per cent).

The findings indicate the wider public's interest in seeing ground-breaking use cases such as those that BT and Project XCelerate are working on, including search and rescue missions, infrastructure inspection, rapid response for road-traffic-accidents, and the delivery of medical supplies in remote communities.

The research from BT and the Altitude Angel-led 'Project XCelerate' consortium found that over two-thirds (68 per cent) of the British public believe drones will have a positive impact on their life in the future, with almost half (49 per cent) saying they are optimistic or excited about the potential that drone technology holds.

The public is most positive about the impact that drones can have on society for the greater good. Research found that two in five were keen to see drones extending human capabilities and reaching otherwise inaccessible areas (42 per cent), such as tracking criminals (65 per cent) or investigating crime scenes (73 per cent).

Human safety was particularly important to the over 65s, who agreed it was the biggest benefit of drone use, while the environmental benefits of drones were deemed equally important to human safety by the under 30s (36 per cent) to support reduction in air pollution.

Despite this positivity surrounding this emerging technology, 38 per cent of people still have concerns about drone use in the UK. Almost half of all adults said drone misuse (46 per cent) and public safety, along with privacy (48 per cent) around personal data and private property, were their main worries. Much of this concern could stem from some public misconceptions, with 47 per cent of Brits believing drone usage remains unregulated, when in fact strict regulations are in place across the UK and continue to be developed and implemented by the Civil Aviation Authority as drone usage expands.

The report comes as part of Project XCelerate’s wider work on the UK government’s 'Future Flight Programme' and will be used to identify how the consortium will work to overcome some of the challenges around the public acceptance of drones.

Dave Pankhurst, head of drone solutions at BT, said: “It’s encouraging to see that broadly the public recognise the future opportunities of drone technology and the positive impact drones can have on society through providing potentially life-saving services. The findings also highlight the need to better inform the public to help address any concerns they might have around the acceleration of drones in our everyday lives.

“To unlock the potential of drones, close collaboration with a number of key stakeholders, from the public, government, regulators, and the industry is needed. Through Project XCelerate, we aim to help contribute to safely opening up the skies, creating new opportunities for the future of drone flight.”

Richard Parker, founder and CEO, Altitude Angel, added: “We’re seeing drones save lives and change the way we live and work on an almost daily basis. The technology we’re developing and deploying with partners like BT will be the foundation on which the UK builds and enables its drone economy.”

By demonstrating the positive impact of drones through real-world use cases, such as those mentioned above, Project XCelerate aims to help influence existing airspace restrictions to safely unlock the potential of drone technology.

The full report – 'The Future of Flight: Public attitudes towards the increasing use of drone technology in the UK' – is available for free online.

Drones are already being used to facilitate a wide variety of everyday tasks previously undertaken by humans, such as National Trust rangers using heat-seeking drones to count seal pup numbers at one of England’s largest grey seal colonies, or the Royal Mail using drones to deliver post to remote Scottish islands as part of the company’s moves to reduce its carbon emissions.

Last month, a report from accountancy firm PwC suggested that the UK’s drone economy could be worth £42bn by 2030, although think tank The Entrepreneurs Network concluded that a £10m upgrade to the UK’s recreational aircraft fleet is necessary first in order to unlock this potential.

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