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Kevin Gosztola | The Dissenter

A drone and aerial robotics conference sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation is taking place in New York this weekend. In the first few hours of the conference, tension over whether to use the word “drone” to describe “unmanned aerial vehicles” (UAVs) or “remotely piloted aircrafts” (RPAs) became apparent.

Vijay Kumar, UPS Foundation Professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Pennsylvania, who was invited to deliver a keynote talk, said he objected to the use of the word “drone.” Buddy Michini, a director of research for a company called Airware, said, I realize that the acronym UAS [Unmanned Air Systems] may seem like old time-y but it’s the industry-preferred nomenclature and I have been told don’t use the “D” word, which is drones.”

That prompted one of the hosts of the conference, who was introducing speakers, to say to the audience, “Why do we call this conference the Drone & Aerorobotics Conference? Because drone is a packed and loaded word and drone also has a specific meaning to people who are building and operating drones.”

“We are talking about flying robots generally,” he explained. “We are talking about both things that are remotely piloted, things that are halfway autonomous and fully autonomous in the past, in today, in the future and in the far future. Drones are really important if we’re talking about the zeitgeist. A lot of people just click with that term and they get the bundle of issues and the policy questions that we’re going to need to be answering.”

Why do individuals use “UAS,” “UAV,” or “RPA” instead of the term that people “just click with”? Does it even matter?

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Kevin Gosztola | The Dissenter

Screen shot from preview of Nova’s “Rise of the Drones”

Screen shot from preview of Nova’s “Rise of the Drones”

The widely-acclaimed PBS program,NOVA, premiered a documentary on unmanned aerial vehicles or drones. The documentary, “Rise of the Drones,” was produced to explore how the technology is revolutionizing warfare and creating the next generation of cutting-edge surveillance. It was created to provide a glimpse at how the technology has advanced and how innovations might progress in the future.

Before the documentary began, PBS noted the program had received funding from the David H. Koch Foundation for Science. It also received “additional funding” from Lockheed Martin, which on its face looks like a violation of PBS’underwriting guidelines.

Lockheed Martin is one of the nation’s biggest military defense contractors and is developing drones (in secret). The test PBS is supposed to apply to programs is three-fold and as follows:

  • Editorial Control Test: Has the underwriter exercised editorial control? Could it?
  • Perception Test: Might the public perceive that the underwriter has exercised editorial control?
  • Commercialism Test: Might the public conclude the program is on PBS principally because it promotes the underwriter’s products, services or other business interests?

Having Lockheed Martin provide any amount of money to a program that touts the amazing potential of innovations in drone technology appears to be a violation of both the “perception” and “commercialism” tests. Is it a violation? Read More

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