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Executive Summary

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, has increased dramatically in recent years. While most attention has gone to military drone use, commercial drones have gained widespread popularity, with uses ranging from leisure activities by hobbyists to humanitarian aid and disaster relief support by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and activist groups. This use has been hard to quantify and regulate.

In an effort to better understand the rapid growth of non-weaponized drone, this report analyzes cases of worldwide drone use reported during a six-year period (2009-2015). Utilizing a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods, we engage two distinct research questions: (1) what is the nature of civilian drone use over time, and (2) what regulatory responses exist to use at the international, state, and sub-state levels. This six-year window generated more than 15,000 news items for analysis, and resulted in a dataset of 1,145 unique uses. The findings are in line with popular reports: drone usage has grown significantly. New platforms in civilian hands are challenging the status quo response of both regulators and human rights groups. While ethical considerations make direct comparisons nearly useless, non-military use has eclipsed military use. This reality poses fresh challenges to national governments, local municipalities, businesses, and individual actors.

Publication Date


Up in the Air: A Global Estimate of Non-Violent Drone Use 2009-2015