Differences Between Drone vs UAV vs UAS


When it comes to the different flying objects that you can control remotely, terms such as drones, UAV, and UAS have been thrown around quite frequently. So, what makes a drone different from a UAV and a UAS?

By definition, every UAV is a drone because this stands for unmanned aerial vehicle. However, not all drones are UAVs because a UAV functions in the air while “drone” is a catch-all definition. Meanwhile, a UAS is what makes a UAV work as the UAV is actually just a component of the entire UAS.

Because of all of the different terms and acronyms being thrown around to describe all the different flying objects we can control remotely, it can be quite difficult to truly establish what a drone is and how it differs from a UAV and UAS. Luckily for you, we have this article to help you wade through the differences between all of these objects and terms to clear up any confusion.

“Drone” Definition

How would you actually define what a drone is?

When you think of an unmanned aircraft that can be piloted autonomously or remotely, you would most likely think of it as a drone. For those who haven’t been following the drone industry, you would most likely think that this is what a drone is. And we can’t blame you because it really is easy to mistake any unmanned aircraft as a drone that can be flown without the direct help of a human.

However, if you were to technically define what a drone is, any vehicle can actually be a drone as long as it can travel autonomously without the help of humans. In that regard, vehicles that can travel in air, sea, and land can be considered drones as long as they don’t need human intervention to travel. Anything that can travel on air, sea, and land autonomously or remotely are considered drones. So, the fact of the matter is that anything that is unmanned and has no pilot or driver inside can be considered a drone as long as it can still function autonomously or remotely.

A drone is a remote controlled vehicle

Even if a plane, boat, or car is remotely controlled by a human being in a different location, it can still be considered a drone. The important part is that the vehicle doesn’t have a human piloting or driving it inside. So, going back to our point, those flying objects that we call “drones” are indeed covered by the definition of what a drone is.

The word “drone”, however, is popularly used to describe those flying objects that we tend to control remotely either using from a different location. You would have probably heard the term “drone” used by the military to describe a flying airplane or vehicle that they use for drone strikes or airplane bombings that they do without the intervention of an actual pilot in the cockpit of the plane. 

These drones have made a huge difference in the way the military has been conducting its operations as they can perform different tasks remotely and without putting an actual person in danger. And the best part is that they can do this from miles and miles away without the need to be close to the drone.

A drone is a flying quadcopter

Commercially speaking, we refer to drones as those small flying objects that hobbyists use for a lot of different purposes. These are objects that can be controlled remotely using our smartphones or a dedicated remote control made for the drone itself. So, when we are talking about drones in the more popular sense, we are usually referring to these commercial drones, which are readily available for anyone to use and are far from the militarized version of what a drone is.

Because these drones are commercially sold, they do not have any weapons whatsoever and, at the most, have cameras that can also be remotely controlled. Meanwhile, commercial drones cannot be controlled from a faraway distance as the best commercial drones can only be controlled from a handful of miles away at the max. So, when we are talking about drones, we are usually referring to these small flying objects.

Still, the real meaning of the term “drone” covers virtually any vehicle that can move without the help of a pilot or a driver inside. So, again, a drone can be anything that can move on air, sea, or land as long as it can autonomously move or can be controlled remotely from a different location.

“UAV” Definition

Now that you know what a drone is, let us move on and talk about what a UAV is.

The acronym UAV stands for unmanned aerial vehicle, which is very much similar to what a drone is in terms of what the definition means. So, basically, a UAV is anything that can fly aerially but is unmanned in the sense that it doesn’t have a pilot controlling it from the inside. 

In other words, when we are talking about UAVs, these are simply the vehicles or the airplanes that can fly without the help of a pilot, and we are no longer talking about all of the different types of vehicles here. This narrows down from the definition of a drone, to mean an aerial vehicle that can fly on its own either autonomously or remotely. 

Moreover, the term UAV only refers to the aircraft itself as we are now excluding all of the other accessories that make up an entire drone system or any other equipment that can help the UAV work. This is an important part of what defines a UAV because this is where we draw the line between what a UAV is in comparison to what a UAS is.

“UAS” Definition

Finally, we come to the UAS, which is something that is entirely different compared to what a drone or a UAV is. So, instead of talking about something that can fly or move, when we are referring to a UAS, we are now actually talking about the whole system of the vehicle and its components and controller and its components. That’s because UAS stands for unmanned aerial system, which is pretty easy to define and understand on its own.

So, when we are talking about UAS, we are actually talking about the system that is behind what makes a drone or a UAV work. This includes all of the different accessories and equipment that you need to allow a UAV to function such as GPS, camera, software, and the remote control itself. You can even include the person controlling the UAV remotely as a part of the entire UAS itself.

Differences Between Drone, UAV, and UAS

Now that we know the definition of what a drone, a UAV, and a UAS are, it becomes pretty easy to actually spell out the differences between these three different terms and objects based on how they are defined.

When we are referring to what a drone is, we are talking about a catch-all term that covers anything that can be controlled remotely or can move on its own autonomously without the help of a pilot or a driver. As mentioned, this can be any vehicle or object that can move on air, water, or land. So, from there, we can safely say that the term “drone” is the umbrella that covers all of the unmanned vehicles and objects.

However, popularly used, the term “drone” refers to the commercial drone, which are the small remote-controlled objects that can be flown around by hobbyists and RC enthusiasts. These are still drones as far as the definition of the word is concerned.

Meanwhile, a UAV is the more narrowed down version of a drone in the sense that it only covers unmanned aerial vehicles and objects. So, in that regard, any UAV is a drone but not all drones are UAVs. And when we are talking about our commercial drones, they are also UAVs when we narrow down the catch-all drone definition.

And lastly, a UAS is far different from what drones and UAVs are because we are no longer talking about just the physical vehicle when we are talking about a UAS. Instead, we are now talking about the different accessories, equipment, and software that we use to actually control and allow the UAVs to fly autonomously or remotely. Therefore, a UAS is the system that is behind what allows a UAV to fly, and this is what makes it something that is far different from what a UAV or even what a drone is.

Used in connection with our commercial drones, we can say that the UAS is the software of the controller that we use to allow the commercial drones to fly from a distance. This can be our smartphones or the actual RC itself together with all of the other accessories and equipment such as the camera and the software on your smartphone.

Elizabeth Ciobanu

Editor-in-Chief. Elizabeth is a full-time (homeschooling!) mom of four, and serial entrepreneur in a variety of enterprises, one of which is producing content for Droneblog. If free time existed, she would love to spend more time on hobbies such as flying a drone.

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