How Direct Line used drone technology to disrupt insurance

This isn't proof of extraterrestrial life but something even more remarkable - innovation in the insurance industry.

A year ago, the words darkness, drones and Direct Line had no connection. Today, they are the foundation for our Fleetlights initiative, a brand activation campaign by Saatchi & Saatchi like nothing that we have ever attempted before. 

To put this into context, two years ago, Direct Line set out to revolutionise the insurance industry, repositioning it as the high-performance "fixer" brand in a heavily commoditised market. This has fundamentally reversed the fortunes of the brand. However, it wasn’t so long ago that it was in systemic decline and so we choose to remain alert in order to avoid any complacency. Indeed, as we look to the future, particularly with driverless cars and connected homes, it is a highly disruptive time for insurance. Hence it is Direct Line’s belief that, as a result of shifts in technology, the centre of gravity for insurance will transition from being a business of restitution to being a business of prevention. 

This shift provides an opportunity for us to think differently about the kind of role an insurance brand could play in people’s lives. Rather than following the category narrative of passively responding to unforeseen problems as they arise, we were able to instead proactively address problems that are part of our daily lives but that people currently simply accept. We were looking for problems with inadequate solutions. This forced us to think innovatively.

Leading experts in the field of drone technology helped create a prototype fleet of responsive drones

The first idea in what will be a series of activations was targeted at solving the issues that darkness causes across communities in the UK. It is a sad fact that more people die on our roads in the darker months of the year. Despite the 7.5 million streetlights in the UK, it is still impossible to have lighting everywhere you need it. Perhaps the problem was really the streetlights themselves. As well-suited as they are to cities, in the countryside they are fixed, inflexible and ugly.

We asked ourselves the question: what if the streetlights were focused on the people and not the street? What if the same five streetlights could go wherever you wanted to go?

We partnered the world’s leading experts in the field of drone technology to create a prototype fleet of responsive drones that can be called to light your way wherever and whenever you need them. The service uses world-first technology to provide lighting that can respond to a variety of scenarios. From driving at up to 60mph to cycling or even wandering back from a country pub on foot, Fleetlights deliver human-centric, flexible lighting. Designed for safety, the interconnected drones are equipped with high-powered on-board lights. They don’t just follow you, they lead you to where you are going. The flight-control software enables them to be summoned and controlled via GPS technology using your smartphone. All as simple as ordering a taxi. 

This project demonstrates the intent for the future and was designed to inspire people about what is now possible.

We tested these Fleetlights in Petworth – a place so dark, it is an International Dark Sky Reserve. These trials then culminated in our Fleetlights films and live experience event demonstrating the functionality of the service.

Although the initiative is still in beta, the software and hardware designs that were developed exclusively for the project are available on an open-source basis to any development community that would like to utilise flexible, responsive lighting.  

Petworth was a great place to test as it is an International Dark Sky Reserve

This project demonstrates the intent for the future and was designed to inspire people about what is now possible. It has received acclaim from as far and wide as Australia and Argentina. The response galvanises us to believe that we can indeed revolutionise insurance and continue to play a more active role in people’s day-to-day lives. We may not have all the answers yet but, as long as we keep asking the right questions, the pathway will emerge. Fleetlights, literally and metaphorically, have helped illuminate our journey and we are excited about continuing it with our second project in the series later this year.

Mark Evans is the marketing director at Direct Line Group and Sam Wise is a joint head of planning at Saatchi & Saatchi London.

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