Societal Acceptance of Drones in Urban Switzerland (SADUS)

The deployment of high-impact technologies, such as drones, touches on many ethical and societal issues. Therefore, it is crucial to establish a knowledge base on this topic. Currently, there is a lack of empirical knowledge on the prevailing perceptions about and attitudes toward the urban use of drones, both in mainstream public discourse and the scientific community. This lacuna suggests a lack of awareness of the normative implications, where issues about access and equity, benefit-sharing, harm and risk, consent, allocation of public resources, and loss of jobs may be overlooked. Further still, directly or indirectly, these issues have profound societal impacts on public policy setting and individual wellbeing. The increasing demands and high potential of drones used in urban environments require a nuanced understanding of the technicalities of the technology, the ethical risks associated with it, the regulatory frameworks within which it operates, and ultimately the societal acceptability of its deployment at scale. Against this backdrop, interdisciplinary research encompassing expertise from robotics, public health, and humanitarian studies and technology’s ethical, legal and social implications are needed to bring light to the topic.

The recently launched SADUS project, led by Dr Ning Wang, Research Fellow of the University of Zurich Digital Society Initiative, in collaboration with Prof. Karl Blanchet, Director of the Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies, aims to connect science with society and politics for a more resilient world through partnerships with domain experts and industry and government stakeholders.

Part of a larger research project, this pilot study will focus on the “medical drones” used for health service delivery, including transporting both goods and people. Drones are increasingly deployed to deliver medical supplies in resource-constrained settings or hard-to-reach areas. Examples include lab samples, blood products, vaccines, and emergency medicines. In Switzerland, the “air ambulance” case promises citizens to deliver door-to-door health services over lakes or mountainous areas and transport non-urgent patients between hospitals. However, there is a need for clearer framework conditions in scaling the use of urban drones to improve usability. The SADUS research project strives to establish a contextualised empirical knowledge base on this topic by proactively engaging science with society through evidence-based research and stakeholder-oriented outreach activities.