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A UAS Failure To Communicate

By Patrick C. Miller | December 31, 2014

Results of a recent national poll show that the UAS industry has a lot of work to do in convincing the public of the benefits of unmanned aerial vehicles for commercial use.

The Associated Press-Gfk poll showed that a mere 21 percent of respondents favored commercial use of UAVs with 43 percent opposed. Those results reflected a 2013 survey of residents in North Dakota’s Northern Plains UAS Test Site region.

In that survey—conducted by the University of North Dakota’s UAS Research Compliance Committee—the only UAS use people in the 16-county region of northeast North Dakota opposed was commercial deliveries. More than 80 percent opposed using UAS for the delivery of alcohol and just over 60 percent opposed the delivery of take-out food.

So while the opposition to UAV deliveries in the UND survey might be written off as a reflection of attitudes in one small region of the country, the national opinion poll demonstrates a real cause for concern. For example, in the AP-Gfk poll, only 1 in 4 favored using UAVs for package delivery, the use that Amazon and Google are championing.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that in attempting to communicate with Amazon and Google to learn more about their respective UAS programs and plans, the two entities tend to provide the least amount of useful information, usually responding with curt, one-size-fits-all answers that convey a “it’s none of your business” attitude.

In the meantime, the public continues to worry about privacy and safety related to UAVs, which indicates that the UAS industry needs to do a much better job of communicating how it intends to address these issues. It’s not enough to wave the magic wand of technology and say that somehow it will all be fixed.

Why is this important? Because politicians respond to public fears—real or perceived. And when that happens, laws are passed and regulations are enacted.

While the intentions might be good, the end result can lead to unnecessary bureaucracy and needless red tape that impedes efforts to commercialize UAS and integrate them into the national airspace.

And as anyone who’s following these events knows, the process is already more complex and taking far longer than the UAS industry would like.