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The Power of Public Perception

Those who doubt that public perception will have an impact on future UAS development should consider the number of states that have either passed or proposed UAS-related laws.
By Patrick C. Miller | August 28, 2014

If anyone doubts that public perception will have an impact on future UAS development, the map of states that have either passed or have proposed UAS-related laws should quickly disabuse them of the notion.

A study by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University shows that 10 states have passed UAS laws, five states are in the process of passing laws and 20 others are considering UAS-related legislation.

A survey of residents in North Dakota’s Northern Plains UAS Test Site region shows that most strongly favor the use of UAS technology. However, when it comes to the possibility of a UAV delivering items to their residences, attitudes quickly change.

Thomasine Heitkamp, chair of the University of North Dakota committee which conducted the survey said: “Our speculation is that delivery takes UAS closer to peoples’ homes. It’s something you might not trust.”

Not surprisingly, some people are sensitive about the idea of anything operating in the sky near them. Public concerns about privacy and safety are very real.

“I have never been involved in anything that has captured the public’s attention in a greater way,” Heitkamp said. “The public is incredibly interested in this as they want to know where data is stored and about safety.”

Heitkamp noted that at the time residents in the UAS test site were surveyed, there had been no negative incidents involving the technology. She quickly added, “Incidents can change findings.”

She also emphasized the importance of collecting baseline data on public attitudes.

“People are aware of UASs, but they haven’t seen a lot of what they can do,” Heitkamp said. “Will that change over time as familiarity becomes more meaningful? It could change.”

In response to perceived UAS threats or problems, state and local governments have demonstrated that they will pass laws and regulations. While some of this might be needed, such actions also have the potential to create unnecessary roadblocks that slow or halt UAS development.

While the idea of “perception becoming reality” might seem cliché, the truth is that if the UAS industry doesn’t open the lines of communications to keep the public informed and involved, the consequences can be real.