President Obama just used the one word drone makers hate most

January 28

(AP Photo/U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

When the president adopts the word "drone," it's time to admit the industry's big attempt at rebranding has failed.

In his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, Obama reminded Americans of his "prudent limits on the use of drones."

For months, companies that make remotely piloted vehicles have waged a quiet campaign to stop people from using the word "drone" — a term businesses fear ties them too closely to the Obama administration's controversial program of targeted strikes in foreign countries. As an alternative, many have been pushing awkward jumbles like "unmanned aerial systems" and its corresponding acronym, UAS.

The idea is to promote the impression of drones — sorry, unmanned systems — as a technology that leads to more than just explosions. A surging international business in this stuff has recently drawn a great deal of attention in the United States, helped along by announcements from Amazon.com concerning drone-based parcel delivery. Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration is working on policies to integrate drones into the national airspace, or NAS. (Using only technologically neutral terms underscores how cumbersome it can be to talk about drones: "The FAA is integrating UAS into the NAS.")

 

It's much simpler, and more accessible, to use the word everyone else does. If you're among the people worried about that — don't. Definitions change. And now that Obama has very consciously dropped the word in a major televised speech, there's no going back. "Drone" is here to stay.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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Brian Fung · January 28