Don’t Use the ‘D’ Word: They’re ‘UAVs’ or ‘RPAs’ But Definitely Not ‘Drones’

A drone and aerial robotics conference sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation is taking place in New York this weekend. In the first few hours of the conference, tension over whether to use the word “drone” to describe “unmanned aerial vehicles” (UAVs) or “remotely piloted aircrafts” (RPAs) became apparent.

Vijay Kumar, UPS Foundation Professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Pennsylvania, who was invited to deliver a keynote talk, said he objected to the use of the word “drone.” Buddy Michini, a director of research for a company called Airware, said, I realize that the acronym UAS [Unmanned Air Systems] may seem like old time-y but it’s the industry-preferred nomenclature and I have been told don’t use the “D” word, which is drones.” Michael Toscano, president and CEO of Aerial Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), said, “You’re the only audience I’ll say the word drone to.”

One of the hosts of the conference introducing speakers addressed this issue and said to the audience, “Why do we call this conference the Drone & Aerorobotics Conference? Because drone is a packed and loaded word and drone also has a specific meaning to people who are building and operating drones.”

“We are talking about flying robots generally,” he explained. “We are talking about both things that are remotely piloted, things that are halfway autonomous and fully autonomous in the past, in today, in the future and in the far future. Drones are really important if we’re talking about the zeitgeist. A lot of people just click with that term and they get the bundle of issues and the policy questions that we’re going to need to be answering.”

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