There are a lot of names that we give to drones. Unmanned aerial vehicles, remotely piloted vehicles, and unmanned aircraft systems are most technically what they are, although sometimes they might be called by their design style, such as quadcopters and multirotors. The reason that the term “drone” is so commonly used is because this type of aircraft was originally deployed by the military to perform reconnaissance missions or deadly air strikes. Being that they were piloted remotely and couldn't perform autonomous operations based on preprogrammed instructions, the name drone applied.
Today, universities, groundbreaking tech companies, and research labs are utilizing drones – UAVs and UASes – to perform important missions that have nothing to do with military initiatives. These missions are generally categorized into the “three Ds”: dull, dirty, or dangerous. Often, the mission combines two of these elements.
In the case of aerial data acquisition, the collecting of data for industries like agriculture, construction, mining, and land or resource management is not necessarily an exciting endeavor. This “dull” mission is often carried out by helicopters, but when conditions shift or mechanical failure occurs, the use of a helicopter can prove “dangerous” for the human pilots aboard. Using a drone or UAV, then, for these types of missions is important to reduce risks on several fronts.
Surely a far more “dangerous” mission would include first responder and law enforcement usage in emergencies and crisis situations. There is no arguing that these missions would also qualify as “dirty”, since hazardous materials are very likely to be present in these environments.
Thanks to the folks at 3D Robotics for providing these videos to show how drone technology is advancing for these critical uses.