A Rose by Any Other Name

By Ray Peterson, VP, Research & Editorial, Forecast International.

It’s called the Unmanned Systems 2015 Conference & Trade Show, “Powered by AUVSI”(Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International), so I get it — vehicles of all sorts whose operation doesn’t require a person to physically occupy them. The ones that crawl or roll along the ground are called unmanned ground systems, while the vehicles operating on or under water are described as unmanned surface vehicles or unmanned underwater vehicles. Fair enough. How to describe the objects that land on the White House lawn or buzz the Eiffel Tower, or more recently defaced a New York billboard, is an entirely different matter. From what I’ve heard while walking the huge Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, drone is becoming the de facto nom de guerre.

Why? “Drone” doesn’t require further explanation to the uninformed — what does UAV or UAS mean? The press has being using “drone” for years to describe the unmanned systems that the United States allegedly uses to take out this or that suspected terrorist hideout. Indeed, an April 29 Reuters news article, “Eyeing exports, China steps up research into military drones,” went so far as to substitute “drone” for “UAV” in material the news agency gleaned from one of Forecast International’s own press releases. There’s even a separate conference taking place at Unmanned Systems 2015 called “Drone Comm 2015.”

Books on air vehicles include Bill Yenne’s Attack of the Drones and Medea Benjamin’s Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control, and the PBS show Nova aired an episode called “Rise of the Drones.”

As part of an informal survey, I asked a few dozen exhibitors and attendees what they preferred to call the flying vehicles. “Drone” was the overwhelming choice.

Of the 575 exhibitors at Unmanned Systems 2015, 10 have “drone” in their name, while 11 use “UAV.”  Interestingly, 13 companies or agencies employ “UAS” in their titles. Or course, the well- established companies have names that don’t tip off their preferred terminology — for example, Northrop Grumman and Boeing. China’s DJ, notably absent from the event, is more circumspect. Its website uses the terms “flying platform” and “product,” or just lists the product name, e.g., “Phantom 3,” “Spreading Wings,” and “Inspire.”

Forecast International markets Unmanned Vehicles Forecast — Airborne Systems, so officially I have to go with “UAV”; however, I let down my guard at the conference and went with “drone.” Does it matter what we call them? After all, a drone by any other name is still a vehicle that operates with no one aboard.

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