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Robb Jeffries, Forum News Service, Published May 31 2013

UAVs go by many names – but please not ‘drones’

GRAND FORKS – Unmanned aircraft vehicles. Remotely piloted vehicles. Unmanned aerial systems.

The future of aviation is set to include vehicles without a human pilot on board, and people in the industry have one request about their aircraft.

Please don’t call them “drones.”

The oft-used term is splashed on headlines in print, on TV and on the Internet, but those who work closely with the technology said the word carries negative connotations that damage the industry’s reputation.

“Don’t call them ‘drones,’ ” University of North Dakota unmanned aircraft systems student Andrew Regenhard said Friday at the Unmanned Aircraft Action Summit in the Alerus Center in Grand Forks. “When I think of drones, I think of ‘The Terminator,’ where killer drones take over the world and have a mind of their own.”

Historically, drones were aircraft that were used for target practice for air and ground forces, UND professor Benjamin Trapnell said. Now, the same term has been used to describe the high-tech Predator aircraft used by the military to remotely strike enemy troops overseas.

“It has taken on a persona that is dark,” he said. “People see that and associate all unmanned aircraft with those that can kill.”

“If anybody shot at my helicopter, I would be pretty mad,” Regenhard added, highlighting that today’s unmanned aircraft can perform a variety of tasks beyond harming people.

Despite being a broadly used and accepted term by those who produce and pilot them, the Air Force has shied away from using the term “unmanned” to describe their vehicles.

“ ‘Unmanned’ implies no people,” said Lt. Col. Scott Coon, chief of NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance Operations. “It implies a dumb vehicle. If there was a political correctness in UAS, ‘unmanned’ would not be correct.”

Trapnell said while there are no people in the vehicles themselves, the human side of remotely piloted aircraft is essential.

“This is an unmanned aircraft vehicle,” he said, gesturing toward Regenhard’s six-rotor remotely piloted helicopter on display at the summit. He then moved Regenhard next to his helicopter, laptop with mapping software and helicopter controller. “Now this is an unmanned aircraft system.”

“They can be programmed for one thing or another, but someone has to program it,” Regenhard said. “While there isn’t a person in the aircraft, there is a person controlling it.”