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New Study Shows Public Support Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — A new report shows that the majority of the U.S. population supports the use of unmanned aircraft (or drones) for homeland security, fighting crime, search and rescue, and commercial applications.

The report was conducted by the Institute for Homeland Security Solutions (IHSS), a research consortium led by RTI International.

Unmanned aircraft are today primarily used for military and homeland security operations. However, within 10 years, sales of UAS are expected to grow to 160,000 units in the United States as the technology develops for public safety use and commercial purposes.

In 2012, RTI launched a research program to better understand the social, behavioral and policy implications of this new technology. Two pilot studies were designed: one to gauge public perceptions and awareness of unmanned aircraft systems, and another to assess law enforcement concerns.

“It’s important to understand the societal implications when new technologies are introduced,” said Joe Eyerman, Ph.D., director of the Center for Security, Defense, and Safety at RTI, co-director of the Institute for Homeland Security Solutions, and the study’s lead author.  “If we don’t take the time to do this, it is likely that governments and industry will make a number of costly missteps while implementing this technology and the regulations that govern its use.”

In March 2013, RTI International conducted a nationally representative survey sample of more than 2,000 respondents about their perceptions of unmanned aircraft in the U.S.

According to the study findings:

  • 57 percent of the general public supports the use of unmanned aircraft systems.
  • 88 percent support their use in search and rescue operations
  • 67 percent support their use in homeland security missions
  • 63 percent support their use in fighting crime
  • 61 percent support their use in other commercial

Among law enforcement officials, awareness of domestic unmanned aircraft use was not widely known. However, police officials were quick to see the potential benefits of this technology to enhance law enforcement.
Among the findings of law enforcement officials:

  • 93 percent thought they would be a useful tool for search and rescue operations
  • 81 percent thought they would be useful to photograph crime scenes
  • 73 percent thought they would be useful for drug interdiction
  • 72 percent thought they would be useful for surveillance
  • 66 percent thought they would be useful for emergency response

“Despite the concerns associated with unmanned systems, this study shows the majority of law enforcement officers find the potential advantages outweigh the risks and barriers,” Eyerman said.