"Amazing but scary": Why it’s time to build trust and belief in drones

by Joanne Murray UK Drones Assurance lead

Drones have incredible potential to transform business. But to realise this potential, and unlock benefits - such as a predicted £16 billion in net cost savings to the UK economy by 2030 - there are significant challenges to overcome.

One of the biggest challenges is around trust, among both businesses and the public, fuelled in part by high profile incidents, misunderstanding and negative media coverage. Concerns include accidents, improper use, invasion of privacy and noise pollution.

However, as with many new technologies there is also excitement which must be nurtured and encouraged. One member of the public, surveyed for PwC’s Building Trust in Drones report, summed up the technology as “amazing but scary.”

From that starting point, the job to be done is to build trust by accentuating the positives and addressing the concerns, through a focus on three key factors: Education; Accountability; Reward and benefit.

It is human nature to trust things more when we understand them, how they can benefit us and how they are controlled and regulated. We can already see public opposition to drones reduces when people are presented with specific, beneficial use cases. And it is important these use cases aren’t far off or fanciful, but rather show the real, tangible benefits drones can make today.

There are hugely beneficial uses of drones, from search, rescue and disaster relief in remote areas to significantly reducing the cost, complexity and risk of building inspections or surveying physical infrastructure. The use of drones is driving real business benefits.

For example, at PwC we have worked with a large real estate portfolio to inspect roofing across the many sites it manages and maintains. Using drones proved 65% cheaper and 83% faster than the traditional method, taking people up cherry-pickers equipped with binoculars and cameras.

In another project, we have used a drone to conduct a stock count audit for energy firm RWE. The drone captured over 300 images of the coal reserve at one of the UK’s last remaining coal-fired power stations at Aberthaw in South Wales. These images were used to create a ‘digital twin’ of the coal pile to measure its volume and calculate its value. In contrast, the traditional method involved climbing over the coal pile and using a GPS tracking pole to measure the area.

There are countless other examples, across industries such as agriculture, oil and gas and construction, where drones are already delivering tangible business benefits.

If we are to realise the full potential of drones we must all work harder to raise awareness about the positive use cases and the benefits to businesses and wider society.

The focus must be on developing society’s confidence, giving businesses and the public reasons to believe in the benefits the technology can deliver to help drive acceptance and increase adoption.

You can explore these issues at ‘Driverless: Who is in control?’, a free exhibition at the Science Museum in London. PwC is sponsoring the exhibition as part of our focus on promoting the responsible, ethical use of AI in business and society.

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