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.