People are becoming more accepting of commercial drones being used in public life following their increased use and visibility during the coronavirus pandemic.
That is according to the CEO of UAE-based technology innovation firm Algorythma, Dr Saleh Al Hashemi, who said getting commercial drones accepted by the public is the main challenge to their widespread adoption.
“I see a big acceleration [in their adoption],” Dr Saleh told CDP. “I think drones are now being more widely accepted as a result of the pandemic. And that’s the main challenge really, getting them accepted.”
While commercial drones are now commonplace in the construction and oil and gas sectors, for example, they are seldom seen in public places and many people are still uneasy with the notion of delivery drones coming into their personal lives near their homes.
A recent EU-funded survey called ResponDrone Project found that the general public is unaware of the use of drones by first responders in emergency situations, for example, and that most people associate drones with amateur photography, children’s toys and military operations.
But authorities in major European, US and Middle Eastern cities have been using drones in their Covid-19 efforts for activities including medical distribution and containment and social distancing control. Governments in China and Dubai were among those using drones fitted with loudspeakers to instruct people to stay at home during lockdowns earlier in the year.
Making people more comfortable with drones will be key when rolling them out for use in public life and in developing urban air mobility (UAM) solutions.
Dr Saleh said that while the pandemic initially impacted on the logistics of the UAV industry, causing a slow down as workers were forced to stay home, overall the coronavirus has accelerated the drone sector in the Gulf.
“Sometimes bad things happen but when they do and the environment changes, you get a chance to reassess and examine all the possibilities,” he said.
“[The pandemic] has taught us that drones don’t just have to be used for deliveries. A lot of things are opening up and kids nowadays are not seeing just one step ahead but 20 steps ahead because they’re open to changes and experimentation.
“I think you will see a lot of advances and government agencies and businesses will be enticed to embrace them.”
Regulation is a key challenge for commercial drone usage in public spaces but Dr Saleh said the UAE’s chief aviation regulator, the GCAA, is being supportive.
“They are really paying close attention to developments because private industries are advancing so quickly,” he said.
“The GCAA is trying to absorb and implement drones as fast as possible. They understand this is an area they must be conscious of and work alongside. Regulators used to be playing catch-up because the drone market is moving so fast but now, they are working with the industry.”
Dr Saleh thinks that commercial drones could be rolled out on a large scale across the UAE within the next five years.
“Even if we don’t necessarily see them hovering above our heads in cities – although there’s a good chance you will – there will be a much wider use of them in security and logistics. They are ideal solutions for those sectors.”