Global drone use continues to soar—according to the World Economic Forum —and the sky’s the limit for future growth even as more drones are deployed to address COVID-related issues.
The WEF report— titled “Global Technology Governance Report 2021: Harnessing Fourth Industrial Revolution Technologies in a COVID-19 World”—notes that drone use for surveying has seen a 90 percent increase in use, while the construction industry recorded a 56 percent increase for remote job-site monitoring.
“Recently, COVID-19 and its accompanying need for physical distancing and remote work drove drone use to new levels,” the report states.
“Other use cases such as medical supply delivery and stadium sanitization also saw growth as a result of the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the growth of these uses, especially in delivery and facilities inspection, as agencies seek to reduce human interaction and enable remote work.”
The study also found increased drone use in facilities inspection, delivery videography and sports (such as drone racing).
However, research also shows new obstacles that may block UAS flight paths to success with issues ranging from data privacy, UAS urban integration, consistent certification, and legal and ethical concerns related to law enforcement’s use of drones.
“This increase in [drone] adoption has been met with slow regulatory change. Often, and especially in the case of COVID-19, regulators are left playing catch-up as companies seize new UAS opportunities.”
The report goes on to add: “But UAS use has reached sufficient levels in recent years for some regulatory gaps to be foreseen and regulations developed pre-emptively.”
Other World Economic Forum Findings
- “Whether for delivery of medical supplies, inspection of critical infrastructure or managing the data collected by drones, more skilled drone operators and drone data coordinators will likely be needed. New regulatory and accreditation processes would be needed to manage the training and employment of these new workers.
- The proliferation of drones and their development from small hobby craft to larger commercial aircraft mean that some level of inadvertent video/audio collection from their cameras and other sensors is all but inevitable. This data could represent a minor invasion of privacy or a violation of civil rights, depending on what it is and who can access it.
- Perhaps the greatest gap limiting the wider adoption of drones and electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft is not one of safety or technical barriers but of economics. For smaller UAS, economic viability can hinge as much on regulations as customer base or pricing. Regulations that are uncertain or do not allow for higher-margin use cases, such as those that may require operation beyond line of sight or over people, can limit growth opportunities for businesses.”
The report is a collaboration between the WEF and consulting giant Deloitte. In 2018, Deloitte launched its own Global Drone Solutions service, aimed at supporting public and private sector clients with drone strategy and integration. Earlier this year, the company teamed up with San Diego research hospital Rady Children’s Institute for Genomic Medicine to explore drone delivery for medical samples from the hospital to the lab for genomic testing.