IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - March 2018 - 90

drones [32] and suggests the public is not uniformly
against all autonomous technologies. While further
study is needed, it is possible that the public will even
favor autonomous (or at least partially autonomous)
over manually controlled UAVs under certain conditions.
Finally, political polarization was found to account for
only a small amount of the variance in our data, even
though we chose scenarios in which political polarization
might be especially likely to occur. This is encouraging
given the negative impact political polarization has sometimes had on the trajectories of other technologies, as
previously noted. The polarization that we did find provided evidence that the purposes and actors supported by
individuals were affected by attitudes such as ideology,
and changed over time. Conservatives supported security purposes more than liberals under some conditions,
and liberals supported environmental uses more than
conservatives. Our analyses further indicate, to some
extent, this polarization could be attributed to differences in trust in different end users and in issue attitudes.
Taken together, our results suggest the importance of
being responsive to the values of specific target audiences while developing UAVs and while communicating to
different publics about UAV development and usage.
Such practices may reduce public resistance and, potentially, reactive legislation. One example of local ideologies impacting public acceptance and legislation is in the
conservative, business-friendly state of Texas. There, a
law was adopted to prevent the use of UAVs by the public
for observing business practices after a meat processing
plant was caught dumping blood into a river by a private
environmental activist [33]. As another example, in California, use of drones over private property has been
limited in response to privacy concerns over paparazzi
flights near celebrity homes [34]. In both cases, locally
important concerns have driven statewide legislation
which may have unintended consequences on other
UAV uses. By taking a proactive approach and responsively designing and communicating about UAVs in
locally acceptable ways, researchers and industry may
be able to gain support prior to being threatened with
legislative action.
It is also important to consider public perceptions of
end-user trustworthiness. Understanding which publics
trust which end-users for different UAV uses is important,
but may change over time and thus needs to be monitored
and studied in greater detail. For example, there was a
shift of politically polarized support for security purposes from the context of business users to government users
from 2014 to 2015. End user also had an overall impact on
public support. Our participants supported use by government over businesses, and this effect remained even when
controlling for ideology and perceived trustworthiness of
the end user (Table 4). This result, although deserving

90

further investigation, is consistent with a recent survey of
the Canadian public which found that more of their survey
respondents supported rather than opposed use of UAVs
for data collection by government groups but the opposite
was true for use of UAVs by private industry [18].

Limitations and Future Directions
While there are limitations associated with the use of a
convenience sample such as ours, other social science
research comparing results from MTurk samples with
national samples, especially related to effects of political ideology, suggest similar results are found in both
types of samples [35]. Nonetheless, future work should
involve representative national samples to increase generalizability to the U.S. as a whole.
We have focused on predictors of public support and
resistance to UAV technologies. Given the importance of
predictors such as purpose and end-user trustworthiness, future work should focus on gaining a better
understanding of the causes of those factors. Also, it
was a bit surprising that issue attitude did not reduce the
impacts of UAV purpose when entered into the regression equation, and user trustworthiness perceptions did
not reduce the effect of end user (Table 4). This suggests
that issue attitudes are not the reason (or at least not the
sole reason) for purpose effects, and trustworthiness
perceptions were not the reason for end-user effects.
Future research is needed to understand what other reasons may account for the differences.
Although UAV autonomy did not appear to affect public support for UAVs under the studied conditions, we
anticipate that other information about UAV characteristics may be important and worthy of further study. People may be more sensitive to whether video is being
recorded or streamed to another device, what information is being collected and how it will be stored, and
whether they trust that the end user will limit its use and
distribution. Indeed, in one notable case illustrating such
concerns, a father shot a drone that he felt was spying
on his daughter. A judge dismissed the charges against
him. Subsequently, a bill was proposed to criminalize
drone harassment in Kentucky [36].
Future research should also investigate additional
factors that may impact UAV support. Our models only
accounted for 40% of the total variance. Other factors
that may be important include trust in the technology
itself. Studies such as [37] that have indicated inappropriate comfort with UAVs at close distances (<1.5 m) for
interaction, which could indicate over-trust in technologies under some conditions. Incorporating perceptions
of specific risks and benefits of the technology, as well
as specific characteristics of the platform, would likely
increase variance accounted for and allow a broader
understanding of public support across contexts.

IEEE Technology and Society Magazine

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march 2018



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