Regional Planning and Regulatory Priorities for Integrating Drone Technology in Smart Cities

The threats drones pose to aircraft in the sky and people on the ground vary by the community characteristics of an area and the types of unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operations occurring. The State of California provides an opportunity to explore how a wide variety of communities are attempting to mitigate threats from UAS in their communities. Since California has wide variability in urban, suburban, rural and transition environments, and the Silicon Valley is home to many of the revolutionary technologies and programs focused on UAS activities, this project aims to provide key insights into how the local and county governments are envisioning the future of the UAS environments. A survey of these local government officials in key executive regulatory positions like mayors, county commissioners, emergency response leaders, and transportation officials will show the most prominent uses of UAS existing and envisioned by these community representatives and help us understand how they intend to prepare for the expected continuous growth of the industry. The researchers intend to draft a list of expected threats, and in turn the steps needed to mitigate these threats. Among other things, the survey will ask respondents:

  • To identify their perceptions on the proliferation of drone use in their communities;
  • The need for local legislation specifically pertaining to UAS operations;
  • The areas in which local legislation may or may not be necessary;
  • The threats of UAS operations on their communities;
  • The extent to which those threats can be mitigated;
  • If mitigation will allow for seamless integration of UAS into the National Airspace (NAS).

The survey will underscore where the consensus is among these community leaders for integrating UAS successfully in the NAS. Once the survey has been completed, the research will concentrate on more individual-level data through a focus group of experts who will provide detailed responses based in a semi-structured environment. The focus group will be led by the researchers of the project based on a semi-structured template, but the responses and flow of the discussion will be largely based on the responses of the group. The responses from the survey will be used to help identify key topics that need to be explored further so that the SAP will be iterative and specific insights received on the most identified issues. The results of this project will provide a clear and prioritized list of concerns in relation to the integration of UAS technology in a variety of community environments. It will also highlight prominent areas of regulatory concerns at a local and county level that will be juxtaposed against federal priorities. The regulatory and technological landscape of drones are continuously changing and the beliefs and expectations about the future of drone activity by policymakers are important components that will drive the future of the industry.

Principal Investigator: 

Tyler Spence, Ph.D.

Project Number: 

1823