Research Project

Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) in the National Airspace (NAS): Public Acceptance and Risk Perception

Motivation/Research Problem
We are motivated by the increasing ubiquity of Unmanned Aerial vehicles (UAV) on the urban landscape. UAV and their many applications within a shared urban landscape are rapidly outpacing legislation and the public’s ability to make sense of them. The speed with which new uses for UAV are implemented or proposed has generated a great deal of research to address technical barriers to implementation, but far fewer studies to assess the relationship between this technology and humans. As the use of UAS for package delivery and urban air mobility (e.g., Uber Air Taxi) appears imminent, we are interested in identifying factors that may contribute to public acceptance and risk perception of UAS in the NAS.
Research Team

Lead Researcher:

  • Kevin Zemlicka M.A. : Academic Advisement, Anthropology & Psychology

Collaborators:

  • Mark Skoog: NASA Armstrong, The Integrated Systems Research Program, Automatic Systems Project Office Collaborator

Student Team:

  • Armenuhi Ghazaryan
  • Rachel Rangel
  • Nathan Romine
  • Jessica Steiner

Funding

  • Funding Organization: NASA
  • Funding Program: MIRO
Alignment, Engagement and Contributions to the priorities of NASA’s Mission Directorates

Our research will directly contribute to ongoing projects at NASA Armstrong involving the development of a prototype fixed-wing UAV under the direction of Mark Skoog. This UAV is being tested for autonomous decision making and length of flight capability, each of which is relevant to eventual roll out of UAV for package delivery and urban air mobility.

Research Questions and Research Objectives

Our research relies on an inductive, grounded theory approach. Therefore, our intention is to generate hypotheses and theoretical models for future avenues of research related to UAS in the NAS. While broadly our goal is to identify factors that may inform public acceptance and risk perception related to human-UAV interaction, we do intend to draw questions and related objectives from each stage of this preliminary study. For example, potential research questions and accompanying objectives have already been generated by our literature review, which in turn will inform our subsequent discourse analysis and later our semi-structured interview protocol. Some examples include the following:

  • Research Question 1: Does terminology have an influence on public acceptance and risk perception of UAS in the NAS
  • Research Objective 1: To measure trust calibration of UAS in the NAS based on use of the terms “drone” or “unmanned aerial vehicle” in the interview protocol.
  • Research Question 2: What risks do legislators and the public associate with UAVs and what obstacles impede their integration into the National Airspace (NAS)?
  • Research Objective 2: To determine  if and how the perception of and risks associated with UAVs differ between legislators and the public. 
  • Research Question 3: What sources does the public draw from to shape and inform their perceptions of UAVs or drones?
  • Research Objective 3: To determine what sources inform the public about UAVs and how those sources influence their perception. 
Research Methods

For the purposes of this research we refer to methods as the tools used to acquire data (e.g. semi-structured interview, participant observation, survey, etc.), while methodology refers to the theoretical orientation underpinning our data collection. For example, we will choose to employ semi-structured interview as our preferred research tool (method) because it allows for a more nuanced response from participants, which in turn meets our ethnographic, methodological goal of capturing the social, cultural, and historical context that we believe is integral to understanding how segments of the American public will perceive risk or come to accept integration of UAS in the NAS. 

As mentioned previously, this research utilizes a grounded theory approach, and is therefore an iterative process. We will be taking extensive field notes at each stage of the research process, from literature review, to discourse analysis, and on to our semi-structured interview and eventual coding of those data. These field notes, or “memoing,” informs our development of future avenues of research and theoretical models through which to view our subject. 

An outline of our research methods begins with the literature review. After examining the current state of social scientific research on UAS in the NAS, we move on to our discourse analysis. Our subject, the relationship between technology and society is extraordinarily broad, and so following Gopi et al. (2016:7) we intend to employ discourse analysis as a suitably broad approach. We define discourse as a “comprehensive concept that includes any practice by which individuals imbue reality with meaning” (Gee 2014).  Anthropologists have a long history of exploring discourse through a wide variety of forms (rituals, myth, customs, etc.). For our purposes we will be looking at verbal discourse in textual form. This may come in the form of blogs, books, public records, announcements, reports, or essentially, any text produced by an individual or organization (Gopi et al.:8) that addresses issues around UAVs, or UAS in the NAS. Beginning from the notion that individual and group action is heavily informed by socially produced and shared patterns, the knowledge of this inter-subjectivity will allow us to better understand the social order, opinions, and behaviors (Schutz 1962) as they pertain to UAS. 

Finally, we will employ three sets of semi-structured interview: CSUN students (non-users), UAV hobbyists from Apollo 11 park (casual users), and USAF and NASA engineers and UAV test pilots from NASA Armstrong and Edwards Air Force Base (experienced users). We intend to obtain 15 interviews among each group. When coded and analyzed, these qualitative data will inform our recommendations and final report to NASA Armstrong regarding potential barriers to implementation of UAS in the NAS.

Research Deliverables and Products

Deliverables include the following:

  • PowerPoint presentation and copy of the literature review for Mark Skoog at NASA Armstrong
  • PowerPoint presentation and copy of report based on the discourse analysis for Mark Skoog at NASA Armstrong
  • PowerPoint presentation and copy of the final report based on results of the research including suggestions for future collaborative projects (research questions and objectives) with ARCS investigators and NASA engineers, and summary of potential barriers to implementation of UAS in the NAS.

Publication based on results of research. Possible journals include Human Organization and City and Society. Co-authorship between Mark Skoog and research fellows encouraged.

 
Research Timeline
  • Lit Review – Completed on May 19th, 2020
  • Discourse Analysis –  Completed on October 13th, 2020
  • Interviews & Coding – Completed on November 18th, 2020
  • Coding & Data Analysis – November through December 
  • Summarizing Findings – December through January (deliverable presented end of February)
Research Team

Lead Researcher:

  • Kevin Zemlicka M.A. : Academic Advisement, Anthropology & Psychology

Collaborators:

  • Mark Skoog: NASA Armstrong, The Integrated Systems Research Program, Automatic Systems Project Office Collaborator

Student Team:

  • Armenuhi Ghazaryan
  • Rachel Rangel
  • Nathan Romine
  • Jessica Steiner

Funding

  • Funding Organization: NASA
  • Funding Program: MIRO