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"Drones" or "UAVs?"

October 22, 2016

I'm asked this question a lot: what's the difference between"drones" or "UAVs" (unmanned aerial vehicles)?

 

You see and hear these words used interchangeably these days, but they're not the same on three critical levels.

 

First, a drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle (more on that word in a minute) but not all UAVs are drones. The difference? A UAV is any aircraft that's flown without a pilot on board, from a DJI Phantom over your house to a Predator over Afghanistan.

 

A drone, on the other hand, is a UAV capable of or engaged in autonomous flight. The mission is preprogrammed using a variety of software, the aircraft takes off and flies that specific route, and then returns to its home point or other preplanned landing location.

 

But there's more than technospeak at stake.

 

Poll after poll shows that the public perception of the word "drone" is hugely negative, and we have a sensationalized-bent news media to largely thank for that. The data show that "drone" conjures up a combination of war violence with privacy-invading creepiness, although this perception diminishes with the level of knowledge a person has about the technology and the industry.

 

Many architects, engineers, construction managers and other professionals don't have the same negative perception as the general public, and this is an important distinction to make if you're in the UAV/drone business, which is the term I've come to use.

 

Back to "UAV." In 2016, we're hard-pressed to not be aware of gender problems with the language of previous generations. You see the FAA using NOTAMs - Notices to Airmen - from a time when women weren't allowed to be pilots. Even the word "UAV" - Unmanned Aerial Vehicle - has the same kind of problem. They're not unmanned - they just don't have pilots.

 

So there are some serious fixes that need to be made in the language of the industry if it is going to be truly inclusive and supported by the public as a whole. We can all do our part. In my case, I've asked Oregon U.S. Senator Ron Wyden to introduce legislation compelling the FAA to use gender-neutral language. A quick Google search showed over 500,000 listings for "airman" and "airmen" in FAA documents. In 2016, surely we can do better.

 

 

 

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