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What are drones used for? Research on drones for good.

What are drones being used for? And by whom? These are the questions that Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick, PhD, and his MA students in peace and justice studies set out to answer with their research of drones for non-military use. They explored skyrocketing drone use cases over a six-year period, poring through over 15,000 news items to get answers.

Executive Summary

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, has increased dramatically in recent years. While most attention has gone to military use, commercial drones have gained widespread popularity, with uses ranging from leisure activities by hobbyists to humanitarian aid and disaster relief support by nongovernmental organizations and activist groups. This use has been hard to quantify and regulate.

To better understand the rapid growth of non-weaponized drones, this report analyzes cases of worldwide drone use reported during a six-year period (2009-15). Utilizing a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods, we engage two distinct research questions: (1) what is the nature of civilian drone use over time, and (2) what regulatory responses exist to use at the international, state, and sub-state levels. In those six years, there were more than 15,000 news items for analysis, and resulted in a dataset of 1,145 unique uses of drones. As non-military use has eclipsed military use, new platforms in civilian hands are challenging the status quo response of both regulators and human rights groups. This reality poses fresh challenges to national governments, local municipalities, businesses and individual actors.

Key Findings

The report "Up in the Air" by Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick, PhD, and his MA students in peace and justice studies includes analysis to understand civilian drone use worldwide and explores regulatory responses. Some key findings from the report include:

  • 2012 was a breakout period that saw the non-military use of drones overtake military use.
  • Regulations in the U.S. are long overdue.
  • Legislation is sparse and uneven, but growing.
  • 41 state laws passed in 28 states

The report concludes that the United States has the most reported drone usage. It also highlights the inconsistent nature of drone legislation, and the "catch-up" process that legislators have to engage in to deal with rapidly increasing drone use.

Download the full report (PDF)

Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies

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