The View From Here

The View From Here


Paul Stanley warns insurers to beware a ‘one-size fits all’ approach to using drones and to be especially careful to avoid the pitfalls of increasing regulations in many parts of the world

Anyone familiar with the hype cycle won’t be surprised to hear me say that drones, or UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), as they’re commonly known, are well and truly in the peak of inflated expectations part of lifecycle adoption.

I can see the appeal in the insurance industry.  The technology appears sexy and has obvious use in claims and major event scenarios.  The attitude seems to be, ‘we might as well explore, as everyone else is.’

And yet, running a company that has offered this technology for over 10 years, you might be surprised to hear me say that the answer is actually more ‘no’, rather than ‘yes’.

There are a number of reasons.  One is the huge growth of hobbyists flying drones.  No company can afford to use one of the many, growing number of non-regulated or ‘cowboy’ style UAV outfits that appear to spring up daily.  One deadly or serious incident and this would launch an avalanche of ‘why would a reputable company contract an unlicensed operator and how can this by stopped’ style public debate.  As well as the havoc this could wreak on lives, the company concerned would face untold reputational damage.

However, sadly, a serious incident caused by an unlicensed operator would seem inevitable.  Only recently a teenager in Connecticut, USA, built and flew a home-made quadcopter drone which fired a semiautomatic weapon, causing a great hue and cry worldwide about how non-commercial UAV use should be regulated. Drones and aircraft and near encounters are another concern.  In the US, there were reports of more than 650 close calls up to August this year, a high rise on last year.

Drones have also been flown very close to either the White House or Buckingham Palace, no doubt raising big questions for our security services over how to deal with a fast-growing nuisance.

While regulation is rife in developed economies for commercial use, it appears a ‘keep running with the ball until the referee blows the whistle’ approach is still in place for non-commercial use. 

Having said that, UAVs cannot be flown at will.  Regulation in the UK and the US does require line of sight control and a no-fly policy over people or in built up areas which does limit their operability.

Being cognizant of these regulations and always adhering to them, means we’ve developed our own ‘work around’ alternatives.  We have, for some time now, operated vans with integral 20+ metre masts and an array of high performance cameras on board, to cope with virtually any requirement.  

The majority of imagery which might be captured by a UAV can equally be sufficiently captured by the increasingly good camera systems on smartphones and tablets, taken by customers, at no cost to an insurer.   

Before resorting to van mounted masts or UAVs, we can call upon our own network of over 350 ‘on demand’ workers throughout the UK, who are equipped to capture imagery on video, to obtain footage of damage or loss, at a fraction of the cost of deploying a UAV.

So while drones do have pertinent uses in say, assessing damage in large loss or in risk assessment scenarios, deployment needs to be fit-for-purpose and the cost-benefit feasible, versus other technology-led initiatives. 

Where insurers can add real value is the use of an imagery management platform so any form of imagery can be uploaded, retrieved by an authorised user, via a web browser, anywhere in the world.  It brings the incident to the ‘desktop’, as if the expert was there in person.  

Suffice to say that UAVs or drones are not a panacea for all claims investigation and validation and, if you do use them, ensure you use licensed and vetted operators and be mindful of the restrictions on their use in built-up areas, especially as changes to regulation will inevitably curb their use.  Think carefully too about how to store the data that’s captured as, poor quality data, will defeat the whole objective.