Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV),
Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), and Autonomous Drones:
What’s the Difference?
The MissionGO team flew a kidney via unmanned aircraft just over 10 miles across the Las Vegas desert this past September. The feat was an innovative step towards using unmanned aircraft for delivery services, like organ transportation. As the unmanned aircraft industry becomes more prominent and vital to advancements within our society, we thought it was important to break down the key differences between the terms Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, Unmanned Aerial Systems, and Autonomous Drones.
UAV vs. Autonomous Drones
In the media, the term “drone” has become a catch-all word to encompass a whole host of new vehicles. While the word drone serves its purpose in casual conversation and pop culture, for more targeted conversations, it presents an issue: it is too broad.
UAV stands for any Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. UAVs are piloted remotely without requiring a human to be on board the aircraft to fly. Autonomous Drones, however, are a type of UAV, but are not piloted remotely by a human. Instead, Autonomous Drones are flown via an onboard autopilot, computer, and sensor suite.. Autonomous Drones essentially operate without human intervention—including takeoff, flight, and landing.
While using the words drone and UAV synonymously is common, there is a distinct difference: drones must have autonomous flight capabilities—meaning they can operate without any human intervention—while UAVs do not.
UAS stands for Unmanned Aircraft (or Aerial) System. The term UAS encompasses not only the UAV, but also the person or team on the ground controlling the flight, as well as the system that connects the two (GPS, ground control, transmissions systems, cameras, software, etc). Whereas an UAV represents the specific vehicle, an UAS encompasses everything necessary for the UAV to run smoothly. An UAS is complex and incorporates many moving parts that make the advancement and function of UAVs possible.