Attack of the drones

I have to pinch myself at times. When starting my ProAktive journey (2012 for the curious reader) the big tech topic on everyone’s lips was how a business can go ‘paperless’. Fast forward and I find myself writing about little flying robots.

On a serious note, it’s incredible the pace in which technology has developed. In such a short space of time advances made in AI, automation and Big Data look like game changers for a huge number of business sectors.

Drone technology is just one facet of this and whilst predominately marketed as a recreational item, its use in commercial enterprises is increasing – Nesta Foundation research for example, shows the number of commercial operators with permission to pilot drones in the UK has increased from 5 to 4,530 in just an 8-year period (2010-18). This will doubtless continue on an upward curve.

But why!?

Because of the commercial benefits! Cast aside the Hitchcockian imagery and consider the application:

  • Sustainability: For consultants and professionals wherein a large portion of activity encompasses site visits and technical surveys on construction projects, in quarries or subterranean spaces. Drone technology offers a cost effective and safe alternative to be used in most instances and so doesn’t involve sticking people in holes or at heights.
  • Speed and efficiency: where we’re going, we don’t need roads” – At a tech conference in 2019, an Amazon executive outlined the company’s goal to roll out a drone delivery service “within months”. Amazon also claim to have successfully trialled this in 2016, delivering a parcel from one of its UK depots to a Cambridge based company in just 15 minutes. Whilst “within months” is a bold statement, benefits are there to be had for retail and transport businesses in terms of offering a faster, environmentally- friendly alternative to conventional forms of transport.
  • Innovation: A sophisticated piece of technology, drones will only become more versatile as the technology advances. Insurance companies are already exploring ways in which they can be used in claims processes to aid loss adjusters in assessing damage and providing pictures. In an article last year, the Insurance Journal stated a belief that industry use of drone tech would sore in aftermath of natural disasters. A belief since proven to be correct following the Australian wildfires earlier this year.

What’s ProAktive’s thoughts?

We take a measured view in that anything designed to allow your business to excel can only be a good thing. That said, be cautious! The technology is still in its infancy, and as with everything, there are risks.

Health & Safety/Regulation:

High profile instances of drone misuse have highlighted the inadequacy of existing regulation and the need for tighter controls. This is something the government has begun to address; albeit as the legislation rapidly develops it can be hard to keep track. As of November 2019, the Air Navigation Order (2018) allows the Civil Aviation Authority to fine businesses up to £2,500 for piloting a drone without the required commercial permissions and registration. From an enforcement point of view, the remit of the CAA seems quite clear cut and will undoubtedly involve the police in more serious cases of gross negligence or corporate manslaughter.

The HSE also have a role in regulation although it looks as if powers dictating drone use rest in the hands of the CAA. This doesn’t mean to say the HSE wouldn’t have an interest though. Theoretically, they could penalise an employer for general health and safety offences if drone misuse is deemed to form part of a company’s regular working processes. Beyond this – who knows? It’s a critical area that bares close inspection as the landscape matures.

Insurance:

A person or company wishing to use drones will find a raft of direct markets if to search online. Such products seem to cover the essentials: i.e. damage to the drone itself and the risk posed to third party property and injury. As with health & safety, deeper questions remain.

For example, how would cover react in response to a privacy breach (say a marketing agency that uses unauthorised footage in an ad campaign) or someone negligently piloting the drone into areas of critical national infrastructure? The ‘rogue drone’ at Gatwick is quite humorous in retrospect and so it’s easy to forget the full scale of disruption it caused from an economic point of view. What if a drone were to accidently enter an unauthorised manufacturing space and result in a protracted business shut down? Would this incident and associated financial loss suffered by the third party be covered under a recreational insurance? What’s clear, is that certain insurers seem to be having these discussions and so in tandem with regulation, the coverage available will inevitably evolve to cover more complex associated risks.

It’s all a fascinating area and one that’s bound to develop sooner rather than later. Keep your heads up!

By Simon Wright Dip CIIAccount Executive

 

 

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