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Quick glossary: Drones

Originally Published:
Aug 2016

Drones are about to become as commonplace as automobiles, so now’s the time to learn the terminology that makes this technology tick.

From the glossary:

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly referred to as drones, are quickly moving from the realm of future science fiction to just another fact of modern life. Before too long, if businesses are allowed to use them as they plan to, drones will be something you see and hear just about every single day.

As that time approaches, it will help to have a basic understanding of the terminology surrounding UAVs. Think about it this way: If you don't take some time to familiarize yourself with the terminology, will you be able to effectively complain to Amazon that your order was damaged because someone used a delivery multi-copter without enough propellers?

This list of 37 terms and concepts will help you grasp the vocabulary behind the technology of unmanned aerial vehicles, aka drones, so that you can deal with the machines themselves and the people who are operating them.

808 camera
The basic small form-factor camera found on drones falling into the toy or hobbyists classes. Originally, the term referred to the Nokia 808 PureView camera, which featured lossless zoom and was common in many early drones and smartphones.

Accelerometer
A device that measures proper acceleration and is used by drones to measure flight stabilization in multi-copters and to establish orientation.

Actuators
The mechanism or system that acts upon a drone to control flight. For radio-controlled drones, the pilot's flight control system manipulates the aircraft through the actuators.

Autonomous operations
Any aspect of drone flight controlled by programming or systems on the drone itself and not controlled by a remote pilot or operator.

Battery elimination circuitry (BEC)
An electronic circuit designed to regulate the electricity delivered to other circuits, eliminating the need for separate battery systems. On a drone, the amount of power required to run the rotors is much different from the power required for the electronic components. But with BEC only one battery system is required to power both of them.

Closed loop
Control architecture that incorporates sensor feedback to adjust flight behavior. In drones, the PID controller is most commonly used in closed-loop systems. Also known as hybrid control architecture.

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