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Drones or unmanned aircraft systems or unmanned aerial vehicles?

May 14, 2014

The developing world of unmanned flying ‘things’ is fraught with many issues, not least terminology. It appears that we have yet to agree what to call them let alone how to manage both the positive and negative possibilities presented. Emerging convention is that, to most people, any unmanned aerial vehicle is a ‘drone’ although the military, and other organisations, have tended to use the more formal term ‘unmanned aerial systems/vehicle’. But the FAA use the term UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) to refer to both armed military aircraft and toy model aircraft, which could lead to confusion as the field develops.


No matter what they are actually called, though, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that there are several issues that we will need to deal with in the fairly immediate future. It is, of course, no surprise that privacy and security are key issues. These are often discussed in the context of the threats to personal privacy; for example the taking of photographs without our knowledge or spying on our neighbours. That’s not to say that these aren’t important topics to tackle and resolve because they are, (particularly when the European Commission appears to be secretly investing in surveillance drone projects without the knowledge of its citizens1) but there is also the lesser known issue (or maybe simply less talked about in public) of the hacking (or skyjacking) of the drones themselves.


Many drones already provide useful services and these will increase in the future. These range from agricultural monitoring and infrastructure inspection to news reporting, traffic management, medication delivery and maybe even the Amazon deliveries described by Jeff Bezos (founder and CEO of As these uses make our lives safer and more convenient we want these services to develop and grow.


Alongside this growth is the likelihood that others will want to disrupt this provision. This can be done in many ways; drones can not only be ‘killed’ or destroyed but they can also be hacked or sabotaged. A security expert has already designed a software called ‘Skyjack’2 which could allow someone to ‘steal’ our latest book delivery. This might not be a such big problem but it leads to the scenario where criminals or terrorists may be able to take control over a group of drones at will – a much bigger problem.


As the development of drones and drone-delivered services continues there is a need to ensure the safety and privacy of everyone. This is a complex area, with many vested interests, and the answer must be that all businesses, organisations, governments and people need to be aware of the risks and capabilities of the technology and be prepared to work together to find necessary solutions.





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Written by Cathy Dunn


One Comment leave one →
  1. John milner permalink
    May 14, 2014 9:11 am

    It is not well known that the Civil Aviation Authority and the Air Navigation Order need to be respected by many UAS, which is one reason why the terminology is drawn so widely by the FAA in the USA. If these vehicles fly above about 400 ft they will have the potential for tangling with other aviation traffic and in some areas they could be flying in controlled airspace from the surface upwards and potentially subject to air traffic control!

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