uav, uas, rpa, rpas, drone… what do they mean and what’s the difference?

no avatar
written by
share with

These various acronyms all mean the same thing – the difference lies in the audience, industry and speaker. The reason this particular type of technology hasn’t yet found a uniform name is because it’s still in its infancy.

This isn’t uncommon for emerging technologies, either. As an example, when people first realised computers were useful they were referred to as computers, microcomputers and personal computers. Nowadays, the field is universally referred to as the IT (Information Technology) industry.

UAV technology is moving in a similar direction, forming an industry that is ‘officially’ unnamed at present because it’s still in its development phase. Here’s a bit more information about some of the common terms currently being used:

  • UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) – a general term used by people in the industry
  • UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) – an industry-specific/regulator term that refers not just to the aircraft but to the whole system associated with making the aircraft fly
  • RPA (Remotely Piloted Aircraft) – generally used by the regulator and industry people
  • RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft System) – pertains to the whole aircraft system and is used by industry and the regulator
  • Drone – commonly thought of as either military aircraft stalking the skies or what people buy from hobby shops for recreational purposes

Greater education and wider usage will move operators, regulators and the public towards speaking one language. With a better understanding of industry terms, the technology, its parts and stakeholders we will see increased credibility and long-term growth.