In December 2013, Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, plunged into a chaos as anti-government protests erupted throughout the city. What started off as a peaceful protest quickly escalated to riots and arson around Kiev’s independence center, the epicenter of anti-government demonstrations. Many journalists were reporting the event from the ground; but it was a stunning aerial video of the events, captured using an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone, that spread like wild-fire on Twitter and other social media platforms. The video showed the magnitude of the protest and the corresponding destruction.
The civilian applications of UAVs are growing and there are already instances of them being used in areas outside of defense; drone journalism is just one of dozens of such uses. Governments specifically can look at multiple applications that can improve the monitoring and delivery of services to the citizens. Environmental monitoring, geological surveys, law enforcement, and delivery of essential services to far flung areas are just some of the drone use cases taking root around the world.
The image of large UAVs carrying out surveillance and air strikes is etched into the minds of citizens. However it is smaller and less expensive UAVs which are most likely to proliferate and find multiple applications at the civilian level. The Department of Interior (DOI) has acquired two UAVs, Raven and T-hawk, from the Department of Defense (DoD) to test the them for environmental monitoring. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) too has authorization from the FAA to use UAV technology for border patrol.
In an era where agencies like the USDA and Coast Guard are struggling to keep adequate presence in critical areas, UAV technology will in the future act as a substantial force multiplier. Matternet, a Silicon Valley start-up, has conducted field trials in the Dominican Republic and Haiti of tiny UAVs that can deliver vaccines in remote or severely congested areas. The possibilities of UAV applications in other areas are endless from environmental monitoring to law enforcement to emergency response.
The real power of UAV technology will emerge when it opens up for citizens or “hobbyists” as they are called in drone parlance. There have been stray instances of citizen journalists providing raw footage of anti-government demonstrations, like the one in Turkey in 2013. UAV technology has the ability to empower citizens and evolve a new cadre of citizen journalists and activists.
The biggest hurdle in scaling UAV technology beyond defense is the need to regulate the market with better standards. The U.S. took the first step in that regard, when Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) published the unmanned aerial system (UAS) roadmap in 2013. The initial draft rules should be released this month or early next year.
There are also mounting pressures to ensure safety and privacy before opening-up the skies to UAVs. For instance the DHS recently deliberately crashed one of its UAVs off the pacific coast after it encountered mechanical failure mid-air.
To learn about the advances in UAV technology and its applications in various government areas, explore Deloitte Research’s look at the future of government and the section on UAVs.
William D. Eggers leads Deloitte’s public sector research and is the author of eight books, including his newest, The Solution Revolution: How Business, Government, and Social Enterprises are Teaming up to Solve Society’s Toughest Problems (Harvard Business Press 2013). You can connect with him at @wdeggers or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mahesh Kelkar is a Senior Consultant with Deloitte Services LP. He is one of the lead researchers of Deloitte’s view into the future of government—Gov2020. He closely tracks the public sector, including federal and state government sectors. His professional experience includes in-depth research and analysis in areas such as the federal contracting marketplace, market sizing, and competitive intelligence. You can connect with him at @Mahesh_Kelkar or by email at email@example.com