Taking the UK’s economy to new heights – how drones are giving a powerful new perspective

Drones are becoming an increasingly familiar sight in the skies above us. And they are playing a growing role in many areas of our public services. But this is just the start.

Our recent report, Skies without limits, shows that, by 2030, there could be:

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£11.4bn (c.27%) of the £42bn increase in UK GDP is anticipated to have a direct benefit to the public sector (including health, education and defence).

Gathering data quickly and accurately from hard to reach places, drones can create a ‘golden record’ in near real time. This can make a crucial difference to public services in managing costs, controlling risks, increasing safety and influencing outcomes. There are a number of possible uses for drone technology across the public sector.

Drones could be deployed to:

  • provide councils with water level data to inform flood risk assessment;
  • assess the health of critical infrastructure such as bridges enabling proactive maintenance;
  • assess gas leaks and pollution levels;
  • provide live monitoring during large, busy events such as football matches and festivals.

The public sector has begun to engage with this technology and innovation will accelerate the list of use cases will continue to grow.

One such use case is accident response. The real-time, life-saving data captured by drones could be a real game changer for emergency services in the UK. Accident response drones could become a common sight above the UK’s roads. They will enable live data from accident scenes to be shared in real time with the emergency services, meaning they know what to expect and can arrive best prepared.

Furthermore, such a drone could capture a 3D and thermal model of the accident site and enable rapid AI analysis using other feeds from smart sensors installed on the road or in vehicles. This analysis could be used to validate remedial actions, extrapolate the likelihood of a similar accident occurring elsewhere in on the road network and put preventative measures in place as appropriate.

This example demonstrates that drone technology is most powerful when combined with other emerging technologies and sensors. This technology could also open up potential new revenue streams for the public sector, as accurate, near real-time data captured by accident drones could by supply insurance companies with a more accurate view of the basis of any claims.

Drones could also revolutionise firefighting by using advanced sensory data to work out alternative routes into a burning building, helping avoid dangerous areas and situations. Equipped with infrared sensors, they could also help firefighters identify people trapped in burning buildings and direct hoses more accurately. Autonomous drones could even enter burning buildings to provide crucial data such as people locations much more quickly and safely than traditional methods.

Our research estimates there will be 628,000 people working in the UK drone economy by 2030. New types of jobs will be needed to develop, build, operate and regulate drones and changes in productivity and consumer demand resulting from usage will also create jobs. By automating routine tasks, improving effectiveness, safety and reducing costs, employees could be freed up to focus on higher value work.

With a supportive government and continual investment from industry into technology and software, drones can contribute to a safer, more productive society.  And the mood music from government is very positive for the industry. Commenting on our research, Baroness Sugg, Aviation Minister said “Excitingly this is just the beginning, which is why Government is doing everything possible to harness the huge future potential through our Industrial Strategy and Drones Bill.”

In order for the benefits of the research to be fully realised by 2030, the immediate focus must be on developing society’s confidence in the technology to help drive acceptance and increase adoption.

The first steps to achieve this were introduced to the Commons yesterday to encourage drone operators to fly "safely and responsibly" without stunting industry growth. New legislation will mean that drones over a certain weight will have to be registered with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and use near airports is restricted. These changes are part of the Future of Mobility Grand Challenge, which was laid out in the government’s modern Industrial Strategy.

By combining drone technology with the right business understanding and human insight there is a huge opportunity to help solve some of society’s most important problems.

If you have any questions on how drone technology can benefit you, please do get in touch with PwC’s UK Drones Team.

Elaine Whyte | UK Drones Leader
Profile | Email | +44 (0)7811 114418


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