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  • Writer's pictureImAFUSA

Social acceptance of drones | Part A

Are they distress or saviour?


Picture this: After a gruelling week at work, you opt for a Saturday morning stroll with your loved ones, heading to the nearest mountain or beach from your city. As you reach a serene spot, the sounds of nature envelop you—the gentle rustle of leaves or the distant murmur of waves. Suddenly, your tranquillity is shattered by the intrusion of a peculiar flying object, its noisy propellers disrupting the peace.



Now, consider this scenario: You're back in the same idyllic spot, enjoying a picnic with your favourite people. Sandwiches are savoured, wine is sipped, and laughter fills the air. Then, a terrifying moment unfolds as your child, exploring a nearby tree, takes a fall and sustains a serious injury. With your car, a brisk ten-minute walk away and the nearest hospital a half-hour drive, panic sets in. But what if, instead of an annoyance, that disruptive flying object transformed into a beacon of hope—a flying ambulance arriving swiftly to offer immediate medical assistance? Imagine if it could even deliver essential first aid supplies right to your location. The contrast is stark, highlighting the potential for innovative solutions brought by the use of drones (UAVs) to transform unexpected challenges into moments of relief and aid.


Offering reliable medical transport  


Based on the above example of your kid’s broken leg, you can only start to imagine the perspective of using drones in the medical field. From carrying medical equipment to hospitals or other medical centres like Covid-19 vaccination centres and remote areas to offering immediate medical help to people in need, drones’ contribution to a more effective healthcare system seems more than certain. Actually, there have been some real-life examples of the above. In West Scotland, ten drones controlled from a mobile operations centre carried in Covid-19 test samples, medicine, essential personal protective equipment, and Covid-19 testing kits to rural areas. This came after successful trials of a drone delivery carried out by Skyports, the first operator to receive permission from the UK Civil Aviation Authority to carry diagnostic specimens by drone. It has been found that these drones can significantly increase the speed of transport, and reduce journey times from up to 36 hours for a road and ferry journey to 15 mins, while also increasing the frequency of pick-ups. Another example is in December 2020, when a drone was used to deliver a test for COVID-19 to a ship in the Elefsina area in Greece, covering 2 miles in 3 minutes while with a vessel, it would take 20 minutes. In another case, in 2022, a collaboration of a Greek company and a start-up managed to deliver medical equipment to small remote islands in the Aegean Sea in Greece. In Greece again, in September 2021, Trikala became the first city in the country to successfully test the delivery of medicinal drugs to isolated areas via drone. Propelled by 4 rotor blades, the drone set off from Trikala to deliver its cargo to Leptokarya, a village about 3 km away. Once there, it made two stops: outside the local pharmacy and in a farmer’s field. At the pharmacy, the pharmacist removed the medicine from the drone’s red storage compartment before it took off again. The latest progress under this scope is the plan of the Greek University of Aegean to carry medicine to the islands of Chios and Oinousses in 2024.

 

Forget about traffic lights?

Urban centers across the globe are struggling to come to terms with the rising vehicle numbers and the resulting congestion, especially during peak traffic hours. According to research conducted by Bernstein Firm some years ago, the global number of cars on the road will nearly double by 2040, with their number reaching two billion by the same time. It is time to think past cars, trains, and buses. The future way of urban mobility is in the air. So next time you find yourself stuck in traffic, look to the sky. With drone taxis becoming widely commercialised, ground traffic is expected to decrease. Drones will usher in a nimble form of intra-city travel, transporting people on the shortest possible route between two locations.


So, can drones already carry passengers? Yes, they can. By this, we mean doctors, firemen, paramedics, rescuers, explorers, or simple professionals who want to get to their appointments on time and tourists who want to experience how the world looks from above.


If they are priced correctly, air taxis may be able to democratise travel in cities where there is no public transport alternative or where the congestion and size of the urban area (Sao Paulo is the classic example) are so great,” says Dominic Perry, an aviation journalist and deputy editor of Flight International.


Except for carrying people, drones can also carry cargo, meaning that they can also substitute street deliveries, thus reducing road congestion. In Greece, in November 2023, the Greek Postal Services signed an agreement with a Bulgarian company to start the first postal cargo drone deliveries. Starting with a domestic service connecting the mainland with islands, the two companies are also exploring international cooperation to provide postal cargo drone deliveries from Athens to key European cities. In this way, it is said that CO2 emissions are cut back by 60%, the delivery costs will be reduced by 50% and the package will arrive at its destination up to 80% faster than in the case of traditional transport.

 

Into fire fighting

Wildfires in Europe have become more frequent and more intense as a consequence of climate change. Several European companies have been teaming up to develop a drone solution with artificial intelligence that will give firefighters better odds of winning the battle against the flames. In the last six years, 35,340 km², an area larger than Belgium, went up in smoke in Europe! More frequent and ferocious wildfires have fatal consequences for people and wildlife, as well as the economy of the areas it affects.

 

A great infographic on using drones to manage wildfires by the US Office of Wildland Fire

To address the urgent issue of wildfires worldwide, from Canada to Spain and Greece, firefighting drones have emerged as a game-changing tool. These aerial marvels, equipped with advanced technology, revolutionise firefighting by enhancing situational awareness, improving safety, and optimising efficiency.  In an effort to address this issue, the University of Coimbra’s Field Tech Lab in Portugal made a firefighting drone test in 2022, by dousing blazes with water before a wildfire turns into megafires. On the other side of the Atlantic, drones have already been used to manage wildfires. The U.S. Department of Interior (DOI), which manages the Office of Wildland Fire, first began flying drone missions in 2010 and carried out roughly 200 flights that year, while as of 2019, the number of annual firefighting flights carried out by the DOI and other wildfire agencies within the U.S. had increased to 2.389.

 

What do people think in real life?


So much for the positive side of drones; They indeed provide hands-on solutions for firefighting, quick deliveries, and medical emergencies. But what about everyday people's perception of them? Is society as a whole aware of the good side of these new flying “visitors”? In our project ImAFUSA, we have been trying to grasp this popular feeling by conducting interviews and “measuring” the pulse of public opinion. Stay tuned for the 2nd part of this blog series, where you will read several conclusions we drew from these interviews.

 

 

You can stay updated on the upcoming official flights by following our social media and checking the news section on the project’s website.

 





 

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