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4 Mar 2013

Don’t call me drone, I am RPAS.

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This industry is probably the most bleeding edge and developing industry in the world. I am not going to start with a full throwback to the 30 or more years of history, but I think there is a discussion already happening and I want to bring it some clarity.

A drone been in flight. Bigger eyes are developed for a better ability to mate in flight.

A drone bee in flight. Bigger eyes are developed for a better ability to mate in flight.

Drone is a word that decades ago was most often used to describe a role a bee can have. Drone bees have bigger eyes and better eyesight than the other bees. This is could be part of the motivation for using this term to describe the aircraft in the sky that are watching the happenings of the world from above with extreme precision.

Another couple of definitions that make this a fitting term: to make a monotonous low dull sound; buzz or hum, a person who lives off the work of others, and most fittingly Drone is a synonym of drudge (a person who does menial, distasteful, dull, or hard work.)

There is an increasing uneasiness about the word “Drone” as it applies to the devices we use. It is obvious that the word drone has certain stigmas about it after it’s constant use in the media since the USA started using aircraft like the Predator  or the Reaper to destroy targets (and sometimes innocent civilians) in the middle east.

A fully armed MQ-9 Reaper taxis down an Afghanistan runway

A fully armed MQ-9 Reaper taxis down an Afghanistan runway

Something about a massive chunk of technology flying itself through the sky strapped with smart bombs and relying on the dependability of a satellite link to keep it from plummeting to the earth below scares people. This may be over dramatized, but this what is in the back of people’s mind when they hear “Drone”.

This, however, is not the first or even the primary use for this technology. The largest threat that the average citizen perceives, the reason that some jurisdictions in the USA are issuing “Drone Hunting Permits”, is the threat to privacy. Privacy is one of the most sacred values of people all over the world. The first and still the most prominent use of these aircraft in military applications is surveillance and that is the primary concern of so many.

No commercial civilian organization like ours wants to be associated with death, war, or any type of fear for public safety or security. Our goal, in fact, is to operate without any threat at all to the safety or security of any person or any property. Our purpose, in fact, is to enhance the safety and security of the same people that are fearful of a technology that they perceive as meant to invade an destroy. With this in mind, we always avoid using the term “drone” when we speak about our business.

So what are the alternatives?

UAV, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle: This is the other term that has been around since the beginning. This is the term actually used by the organizations that develop and employ the technology for all the nasty reasons above. UAV, however, does not have the same stigma as “Drone” because it doesn’t have the same flash and has not been used by the media nearly as much. This, however, is ambiguous enough to possibly give the perception that the aircraft acts on it’s own and is actually makes it’s own decisions. True autonomy in this sense does not exist, but that’s another conversation.

UAS or Unmanned Aerial System: This is really the same as UAV but implies the inclusion of the ground station and radio links.

UAV ground station

RPA or Remotely Piloted Aircraft: This is probably the most applicable term for the aircraft itself. It removes the ambiguous term “vehicle” and this term implies that there is actually a person in control of the aircraft and thus removes some fear of a flying robot responsible for it’s own actions.

RPAS or Remotely Piloted Aircraft System: Really RPAS is the same as RPA and like UAS to UAV, includes the ground station and all other components necessary to complete a mission.

With all of this in mind, as long as there is a pilot in command, it seems to me that what we are really using here is a Remotely Piloted Aircraft which is part of a Remotely Piloted Aircraft System.

So next time your neighbour refers to your mini quadcopter as a drone, stick up for our little friends and tell him that it isn’t a mini man-hunting privacy invading military warbird being guided by a command center at the CIA, it is our new peaceful civilian friend RPAS.