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UAV - Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. Drone. Remote Control Plane / Helicopter. What is the difference?

Like "Hacker" the words we use get warped by media and take on new meaning.

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Drone = Robot in general

Remote Control

RC Aircraft (planes, copters, gliders) have been legal and require no formal qualification or training (at least in Australia) for decades. There are lots of restrictions. The most obvious ones are: Private property (or with approval); Low flying (< 400'); Line of sight; Under control; Not in controlled airspace; not near an airfield...

Early Automation

I have been flying RC helicopters on my own property for 10 years. The first one I got had a gyro - this is a device to keep the tail from turning and make control a lot easier.

Better Stabilisation

Stabilisation has improved, so now we can use multi-copters - which were almost impossible to control manually. We use the automation to make what is known in aircraft world as a stable platform. Planes achieve this by adding weight at the bottom or dihedral in the wings. Helicopters more complicated, and multi copters via electronic means.


Unmanned Aerial Vehicle - read those words. They just mean anything that can fly that doesn't have a person in it. A paper plane for example is a UAV.

But we can't always worry about the fact the media changing words. So lets assume that someone means a Drone or more specifically autonomous vehicle.


What is autonomous?

I don't think people are worried about this kind or level of autonomously controlled devices.

Lets expand the definition into what we use in projects like APM (aka Arducopter, Ardupilot etc).

Again, I don't think these are where people are worried about. They are still just extensions of my original gyroscope correcting my tail yaw. Plus they actually make these devices safer and more reliable. When I was in our local RC club, plane loosing control just crashed - where ever it went, even across the road into a neighbors house.

Not Autonomous

The media reports all the time about Drones, UAV or Autonomous vehicles. 90% of the time they are not. We see UAV used for movies. Great but these are just remotely controlled camera. Movies have been using these for decades. Our local RC Heli pilot is often hired to pilot heli and planes for local movies and advertising.

Nothing new here. The news, the general unsuspecting public are being told about things that have been done for decades as if they are new.

Real autonomous

There is a real autonomous vehicle. Planes, Rovers, Boats and Copters (single and quad) can be programmed to do a task via a GPS. This means anything from delivery of a payload (packages, to crop spraying to illegal substances) to just taking pictures. But they are now OUT OF the control of an individual and usually out of sight.

There are real world examples of this that are making the news. E.g. Monitoring a farm; Spraying weeds in remote areas. These are often a side story to the news article which usually leaves people worried about the Quad copter that crashed into Sydney Harbor Bridge.

It is likely (but I have no direct knowledge) that this copter was just remote control. If they had used automation, it would not have crashed into the bridge !

Problem vs Perception

I think the problem that is being reported is in the area of cheaper and more common RC aircraft (especially quad copters) with built in cameras. Privacy issues for example. This is probably the area of concern that is legitimate and people should be respectful. It is no different though to the issue of people having cameras on their phones, and more commonly in things like Google Glass.

The area of most interest to me is the automation. Being able to send a UAV to monitor a fire for example.

Lets not confuse the use of RC devices in making movies, or watching sport, or crashing into bridges with actual autonomous vehicles. They are quite different.

What you do, not what you have

A concealed knife is illegal. Buying a knife and using a knife is not. Stabbing someone is illegal. It is what you do with it. Having a camera is not banned. Owning one is not breaking people privacy. Attaching one to a broom handle and looking over your fence to your neighbours is breaking their privacy - but we don't ban brooms and cameras.

See Also

Privacy and Rules

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