Study shows most Americans are wary of commercial and personal drones


Americans are optimistic about flying robots providing a public benefit in the long-term, but currently are against wide commercial and personal use, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.

Just 22% of the Americans surveyed by the Pew Research Center said it would be a change for the better if U.S. airspace were open to personal drones. In contrast, 63 percent said opening the skies to drones would be a negative change.

Men and younger adults were more optimistic about drones than women and older adults, but even then, 60% of men and 61% of 18-29 year olds believed pervasive drone technology would be a negative development.

This study was meant to gauge feelings on technological developments expected to come within 50 years. Pew also asked about feelings on other imminent advances such as smart implants, robotic caregivers, and the ability for parents to genetically select and manipulate traits in their children. Notably, most of those polled for this study had negative feelings about the prospects for those technologies.


For example, the advancement believed to be most beneficial in the short-term was devices or implants that feed the wearer information about the world. Even then, only 37 percent of respondents thought it would be beneficial in the near-term if “most people wear implants or other devices that constantly show them information about the world around them.”

Out of all the technologies mentioned in the survey, respondents were least likely to agree that “personal and commercial drones are given permission to fly through most U.S. airspace” is a good thing in the near-term. Drones were not the most unfavorably-rated technology, however. Compared to drones, respondents were slightly more likely to view the ability for parents to alter the DNA of their offspring as a negative.

The takeaway from this study, for those who wish to use drones for journalism or any other purpose, is that people are quite skeptical of unmanned flying machines. There is optimism around the corner, but how quickly we arrive at a more accepting environment will depend on the positive outreach we provide right now.

We have to do better. The public needs to experience how responsible drone use can make their lives better, and how drones can help deliver more informative, immersive, intelligent news reports. It could be as simple as flying in front of curious onlookers, or as complicated as embarking on an innovative news project.

Drone journalism could be the “good ambassador” that opens the door to commercial and recreational drones. The point is, we need to focus on work that reaches the public, and we should probably do something before opinion and regulations are solidified.