Report: Drones in the Service of Society
We are pleased to announce that after a well attended press conference at the Science Media Centre in London, the FRR today (6 June 2018) released a report titled “Drones in the Service of Society”. The Report was authored by Aimee van Wynsberghe, Denise Soesilo, Kristen Thomasen, and Noel Sharkey.
Drones in the Service of Society
This report is a reflection on the societal issues surrounding state of the art in non-commercial applications of drones1 operated in the service of society by private individuals. The phrase ‘in the service of society’ refers to applications of drones intended to be used for
good, loosely defined as providing a positive or beneficial service for individuals or groups of individuals , thus, the drone is not used for gaining profits but is used in response to an explicit need. This report touches on areas of humanitarian aid, responsible journalism,
environmentalism, search and rescue, and social/political activism (but is not necessarily limited to these). This document is not an opinion piece; rather, it is a reflection of issues raised by these applications of drones in these domains. The need for this report was triggered by the increased use of drones in the ‘service of society’ coupled with inadequate policy and regulation to guide this widespread adoption in a responsible manner.2 This document is intended for drone operators, activists, journalists, academics, and the general public. Key findings of this report are not necessarily limited to non-commercial users, though these applications are the focus.
This report is a joint effort by members of the Foundation for Responsible Robotics (FRR) and a product of multiple workshops and meetings including the workshop on Drones in Humanitarian Contexts (The Hague, March 2017) and Drones in Safety and Security Contexts (The Hague , November 2017). It was written by the authors listed above with special thanks to the input and reviews of multiple participants , editors , and organizations making and /or using drones: Shannon Vallor (Santa Clara University), Robin Murphy (CRASAR), Christopher Markou (University of Cambridge ), Dylan Cawthorne (SDU UAS Centre ), Audrey Derobert , Juliana Prieto, Arbonaut, Avy, Flyability, MOAS, Otherlab, Schiebel, UAVAid, Uvionix, and Wings for Aid. It was made possible by the Delft PILOT project inspired by the sustainable development goals and supported by the Municipality of The Hague. Rather than presenting a comprehensive in depth treatment of all the ethical issues that may arise in conjunction with beneficial civilian drone operations, the authors hope to open a cross-sectoral dialogue on ethical problems that may need further research and discussion . The authors thus invite comments and ideas for further exploration and knowledge exchange in this domain.
1. Reduction and/or mitigation of psychological and physiological responses to drones such
as stress and trauma are key elements for maximizing the societal benefits of drones. There is
urgent need for more detailed research to assist stakeholders in reducing the negative impacts.
2. Heightened privacy considerations are required and stricter stance on privacy and data
protection guidelines is needed due to the potential impact on both drone operators and the
individuals or groups whose data is being collected.
3. Erosion of human rights including infringements on human dignity and justice should be
deliberated prior to launching drone operations. Such consideration should impact the whole
process from the choice and design of the drones to the planning and strategy phases of
4. Coordination with professional rescue operations should be a strict requirement for
private groups (including NGOs) before initiating assistive operations in disaster zones.
Otherwise there is a risk of hampering or seriously impeding ongoing rescue and disaster
5. Consulting existing guidelines and professional codes of practice is essential before
private individual users or groups consider operations in fields such as humanitarian aid and
journalism. There are existing policy documents and established codes of practice that need to
be taken into account in the initial formulation of such projects.
Note to editors
The Foundation for Responsible Robotics (FRR) is a not-for-profit organization established in the Netherlands and is dedicated to the “responsible design, use, development, and regulation of robots in society”. The FRR facilitates responsible design through: the organization of workshops to bring multiple sectors together; the writing of reports and consultation documents (such as this one) to raise public awareness of robotic innovations; and the creation of public-private collaborations to facilitate responsible development in industry. The FRR office is located at Laan Van Meerdervoort 70 in The Municipality of The Hague, the Netherlands.