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New UNDP Handbook: How Lower-Income Cities Can Use Drones

By Guest Writer on October 5, 2022

uav drone usage

Uncrewed aerial vehicles – UAVs, often known as drones – have garnered significant interest amongst city administrations as potential tools for public and private service delivery, and for numerous other urban use-cases. However, these discussions and explorations have often focused on higher-income cities: from New York to London and Barcelona, Tokyo and Singapore.

The Sky’s Not The Limit: How Lower-Income Cities Can Leverage Drones UNDP Handbook aims to guide city officials in lower-income cities in exploring and implementing UAV services and solutions.

Globally, the urban UAV sector is still in its infancy. It remains defined by pilots, testbeds and trials, and government-funded initiatives. This provides lower income cities with a considerable opportunity to leverage this emerging technology. Drawing on their numerous assets – including less technical and physical legacy, often tech-savvy and agile governance processes, and their talented and entrepreneurial residents – officials in these cities can position their cities as leaders in global urban UAV explorations.

The pressures of urbanisation are also demanding new ways of engaging with the urban space. UAVs have had a strong following amongst consumers and hobbyists for some time, with much of this activity also happening in many lower-income cities. This handbook moves beyond these recreational use-cases: it sets out the key priorities, considerations, policies, and interventions that cities need to engage with in order to drive larger-scale, professional, and sustainable UAV initiatives that achieve key urban objectives. This includes the potential ‘business models’ that cities may need to explore to shape investments in UAVs and related infrastructure.

5 Ways Lower-Income Cities Can Engage with UAVs

We call all of these components the urban UAV ‘stack’. The insights collated in this report are founded on industry and broader expertise of urban UAV use-cases, including those operating in high- and lower-income cities. In particular:

1. Local champions in the city administration.

As noted above, most cities are already engaging with the UAV space. Individual entrepreneurs and smaller enterprises are likely already operating – successfully, with a wide-range of clients – within your city. Identify, engage with, and showcase this community. Within the city administration, ensure that this expertise has the appropriate visibility – particularly at senior levels – so policymakers and other officials are aware that UAVs are a relevant and accessible tool in their urban toolkit.

2. UAVs are not created equally.

The composition of UAV design elements affects the aircraft’s flight range, level of autonomy, and potential uses and applications. It is likely that cities will see a range of different UAVs operating in their skies – with UAV selection likely to be highly-context specific and driven by local needs and realities.

3. Cities will need to adapt regulation.

Cities will need to consider the extent of proportional regulation, and other engagement, with the UAV sector. This will include balancing innovation with essential protection of lives and livelihoods – and ensuring that UAVs do not disrupt the enjoyment of the city. This will require agile governance structures. Similarly, some regulatory competence will be held at a national level – providing cities with an opportunity to demonstrate leadership in exploring and applying innovation.

4. Cities will need to invest in partnerships.

Moving beyond ‘business-as-usual’ and engaging with the potential of UAVs in cities will require investment by the city, and expansive partnerships across the public, private, and civil society sectors. Considerable digital, physical, flight, and community infrastructure will be needed in the coming years – however much of this will not be UAVspecific, but also used for other aspects of the digital economy. Similarly, cities will also need to avoid dependence on technology and be led by use-cases where UAVs can add meaningful value.

5. Recognise private sector leadership in UAVs.

Cities must proactively engage with the UAV space, including setting out clear roles and responsibilities for both the public and private sector (and recognising institutional capacities). This is particularly important in ensuring that the activity in urban skies does not negatively impact on city residents, and the need to protect non-discriminatory access to crucial public infrastructure.

UAVs Have Great Potential for Lower-income Cities

The urban potential of UAVs, particularly for lower-income cities, is considerable. Beyond refining public and private service delivery, UAVs could also accelerate broader sustainable development.

From improving how cities leverage private sector innovation and collaboration, to shaping improvements in public contracting, and building digital and technical skills across the population. Lower-income cities should also recognise the worldwide infancy of all cities – both high- and low-income – in exploring the urban role of UAVs.

These tools could provide an opportunity for lower-income cities to demonstrate global innovation leadership, and to shape the standards and potential of a key part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

A lightly edited Executive Summary of The Sky’s Not The Limit: How Lower-Income Cities Can Leverage Drones UNDP Handbook

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