| Aeronautics
European study on the acceptance of unmanned aircraft

What do people think about drones?

Crewed and uncrewed aircraft flying together over a city
Illustration of crewed and uncrewed aircraft in an urban setting. The DLR Institute of Flight Guidance has conducted an extensive online survey in six different EU countries, together with market research institute SKOPOS. A total of 2998 respondents took part.

Imagine a sunny day in a European capital city. People are strolling along shop-lined streets or sitting leisurely at tables outside cafés. What may seem like a perfectly ordinary scene belies the hive of activity unfolding above. An air taxi is gently landing on a nearby rooftop, while a drone skilfully manoeuvres through the air to deliver a package to a shop. At the same time, a rescue drone is setting off for the site of a car accident in another area of the city. These are some of the possible future scenarios involving urban drone transport. Drones are already capable of taking on a range of tasks, but despite their usefulness in many respects, there remains the question of how the general public might react to their increasing prevalence. Will they be seen as a welcome innovation, or viewed with immense scepticism?

To get to the bottom of this question, our team at the DLR Institute of Flight Guidance has worked with market research institute SKOPOS to conduct an extensive online survey on drones in six different EU countries. The poll forms part of the USpace4UAM project, and the results are now available. Countries surveyed include Germany, UK, Poland, Spain, Czechia and Austria, with a total of 2998 people taking part.

Generally positive, but some concerns

The results of the study show that across various countries, the public has a predominantly positive attitude towards drones. In particular, respondents broadly approved of public and civil applications such as disaster management and research.

Attitudes were more ambivalent however when it came to private and commercial applications, such as passenger transport or drones for a hobby. And despite the generally positive views, a number of concerns were raised, with the most unease relating to possible violations of privacy along with scepticism about the safety of drone technology.

We also examined the influence of personal characteristics and demographics on these concerns. People over the age of 40 are slightly more worried about drones than their younger counterparts, while in terms of the general attitude towards drones and their various uses, the results show that those who are more tech-savvy or have a strong general interest in modern technology tend to be more positively disposed. This technological divide underscores the need for comprehensive, transparent information when communicating new developments to the public.

Awareness and acceptance through drone storytelling

One observation that particularly surprised us was that the general attitude towards drones improved between the start of the survey and the end. The effect was minor, but surprising nonetheless, as the poll was not directly aimed at increasing acceptance. Simply thinking about drones and briefly discussing them in theory seems to have led to a more positive attitude among those surveyed.

This suggests that large-scale, complex measures and campaigns may not be necessary to educate and promote acceptance. It may be sufficient for researchers to step up public communication about new technologies and the results of their work by talking about actual projects. Such information could be provided for instance via social media, newspaper articles and television reports, enabling the public to form well-founded opinions on what the city centres of the future should look like.