Survey shows strong public support for UAS within ND

By Patrick C. Miller | July 31, 2014

A survey of residents in North Dakota’s Northern Plains UAS Test Site region shows that most strongly favor the use of UAS technology for everything from military operations to law enforcement to agriculture.

“There’s more support than opposition to UAS across multiple categories in this region of North Dakota,” said Cindy Juntunen, lead investigator of the University of North Dakota’s UAS Compliance Committee, which developed the survey.

The Northern Plains UAS Test Site was one of six national sites designated by the FAA late last year for the testing of UAS technology. UND is playing a key role in the site through its John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences. The university created the compliance committee to address ethical issues related to UAS technology.

“The UAS Research Compliance Committee, as far as we know, is the only group of its kind in the United States, and to my knowledge, probably in the world,” said Phyllis Johnson, UND vice president for research.

The only UAS use people in the 16-county region of northeast North Dakota opposed was for commercial deliveries. More than 80 percent opposed using UAS for the delivery of alcohol and just over 60 percent opposed the delivery of take-out food.

Forty percent opposed using UAS for package delivery while the remaining 60 percent were almost evenly split between either favoring or being neutral on the issue.

“This was the only category where there was clearly more opposition than support,” Juntunen said.

Noting that many of the 728 survey’s respondents expressed concerns about privacy and safety, committee chair Thomasine Heitkamp offered a possible explanation for the negative response to using UAS for commercial deliveries.

“Our speculation is that delivery takes UAS closer to peoples’ homes,” she said. “It’s something you might not trust.”

In general, using UAS technology for search and rescue operations, law enforcement, agricultural operations, monitoring weather and climate, and military operations received strong support. However, some uses within those categories had markedly less support.

For example, approximately 45 percent of respondents supported the use of UAS to detect traffic violations while more than 30 percent opposed it and the remainder were neutral.

In a rural area dominated by agriculture, support was strong to employ UAS technology for crop planting, spraying and monitoring for diseases and insects. However, just 50 percent supported the use of UAS by agricultural chemical companies. More than 25 percent were opposed and the remainder were neutral.

Of the 728 people who agreed to participate in the survey, 11 percent were unfamiliar with the terms UAS, UAV or drones. They tended to be younger—under 34—and less educated than those familiar with UAS.

“This is the only study in the United States of this nature that is this comprehensive regarding community attitudes and perceptions around the use of UAS,” Heitkamp noted.