Drones are seemingly everywhere these days. When they are not bombing government targets in Yemen and Pakistan, they are being tested to deliver packages to consumers across America. Both Amazon and Walmart are in the process of developing the technology to one day replace Fedex, UPS, and the US Postal Service as the primary delivery mechanisms for goods ordered by consumers online. In a recent interview, Walmart spokesperson Dan Toporek stated “Drones have a lot of potential to further connect our vast network of stores, distribution centers, fulfillment centers and transportation fleet. . . .There is a Walmart within five miles of 70 percent of the U.S. population, which creates some unique and interesting possibilities for serving customers with drones.“
Now, another industry is getting in on the unmanned aerial vehicle game. Insurance companies are lobbying Congress and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for industry friendly regulations on the use of drones for a vast array of industry needs.
Large scale catastrophes present unique challenges to insurance companies – one of these challenges is accessing the affected regions in order to assess the damage. Helicopters are the traditional means of observing the scope of the damage, but helicopter use is costly and often dangerous. Insurance companies would much rather prefer using unmanned aircraft – commonly called “drones” because they are in theory safer and significantly more cost-effective.
Earlier this year, the FAA established drone testing sites in the states of Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia, with limited and less extensive testing also possible in Hawaii, Oregon and New Jersey. Insurance companies have been secretive of which of these sites have been used to test their drones, but experts indicate that they they are likely testing the technology in multiple locations.
Madison, Wisconsin based American Family Insurance has already received a Section 333 exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration to use drones. Currently, the FAA restricts the use of drones for commercial activity. However, a Section 333 exemption lets companies like American Family use drones for surveying. Other companies are also jumping in on the game. The Vice President of Operations in the Claims division of industry leading Bloomington, Illinois based State Farm notes “The potential use of UAS provides us one more innovative tool to help State Farm customers recover from the unexpected as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
State Farm and American Family are not alone. Industry experts predict that in the near future, adjustors will be able to park within the vicinity of an area ravaged by a wildfire, flood, earthquake,or hurricane, open their company car trunk, take out the UAM device, and operate the drone from the comfort of their car with relative ease. Technological advancements will make such operation relatively easy as existing technology found in such common items as an iPhone and Android smartphone will allow anyone with minimal training to operate the aerial device.
Insurance companies have for years developed a reputation as conservative corporate players slow to adapt to changes. However, with drone technology, the companies are breaking out of that perception and becoming some of the earliest adopters of the groundbreaking technology.