An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), commonly known as a drone, is an aircraft without a human pilot aboard. UAVs are a component of an unmanned aircraft system (UAS); which include a UAV, a ground-based controller, and a system of communications between the two. The flight of UAVs may operate with various degrees of autonomy either underremote control by a human operator, or fully or intermittently autonomously, by onboard computers.
Compared to manned aircraft, UAVs were originally used for missions too “dull, dirty or dangerous” for humans. While they originated mostly in military applications, their use is rapidly expanding to commercial, scientific, recreational, agricultural, and other applications, such as policing and surveillance, product deliveries, aerial photography, agriculture, smuggling, and drone racing. Civilian drones now vastly outnumber military drones, with estimates of over a million sold by 2015, so they can be seen as an early commercial application of Autonomous Things, to be followed by the autonomous car and home robots.
One lesson the Pentagon learned as it expanded its drone force to meet the demands of current wars was that ‘unmanned’ aircraft actually require lots of manpower. A single Predator or Reaper requires as many as 170 personnel to launch, command, recover and repair, plus handle the imagery it gathers. ‘There’s nothing unmanned about them,’ Deptula says of UAVs.