Insurance giant American International Group yesterday (April 8) announced it has won approval from the US Federal Aviation Administration to fly drones. That means AIG will now be able to use unmanned aerial vehicles to get to disaster-stricken towns in the US more quickly (pdf), potentially speeding up the process of cutting reimbursement checks to homeowners and businesses hurt by floods or hurricanes.
It also opens up the possibility insurance companies will soon be able to spy on how diligent you are about keeping up your home or how safe of a driver you are, adjusting insurance rates based on bad behavior.
Drones also might help root out fraudulent behavior, for instance by monitoring whether someone was hurt badly enough in a car accident to merit a claim, or whether a farmer really suffered enough crop damage in a flood, to get an insurance payout.
Drone use has rapidly expanded from military missions to more mainstream commercial adoption, with the likes of Amazon working on using unmanned aircraft to deliver goods to customers’ doorsteps. Now, drones are being applied to far less sexy professions—assisting insurance adjusters assessing damages, or helping tech-savvy farmers herd sheep.
AIG already has created an international drone research program and conducted flights in New Zealand; the company also offers insurance for drone operators to cover the costs of potential crashes. Fellow insurers State Farm and USAA also have recently garnered approval from the FAA to operate drones.
The insurance industry’s interest in drones has sparked privacy concerns over how the companies will use the machines to monitor their customers. While 83% of people support the use of drones to help with search and rescue missions, only 21% of people say that it’s okay to use drones to monitor whether or not you are speeding, according to a 2013 survey (pdf) by Monmouth University in New Jersey.
Right now, it looks like AIG will have to get a property owner’s permission to fly a drone over a private home or business. But its application to the FAA (pdf) details how drones would “provide an opportunity for ongoing documentation and monitoring of risks.”
In AIG’s 15-page application, there was but one line on privacy concerns. It states that “all flights will be conducted in accordance with any federal, state or local laws regarding privacy.” The company did not respond to requests for additional comment.