Complete List of UAV Terms You Need To Know

Here’s a comprehensive list of terms you could come across when deciding which drone is right for your needs.
July 22, 2020 by
Complete List of UAV Terms You Need To Know
Andrew McKinney

The world of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) is full of terminology that most people won’t recognize. UVT is here to help! Here’s a comprehensive list of terms you might come across when deciding which drone is right for your needs.

All The Ways You Can Say "Drone”

Drones themselves have a variety of acronyms or nicknames. We’ve provided some of the most-used ones and their meanings for your convenience.


Small Unmanned Aircraft System, typically weighing 55 pounds or less.


Unmanned Aerial System


Unmanned Aerial Vehicle


Unmanned Ground Vehicle


Unmanned Surface Vehicle


Unmanned Underwater (or Undersea) Vehicle


Unmanned Vehicle

If you’re interested in learning more about specific types of drones, check out our blog on Types of Unmanned Vehicles You Need To Know About.

UAV Terms You Need To Know

Each unmanned vehicle can have its own accessories, payloads, and capabilities. There are countless options out there. Here is a breakdown of what some of the most common terms mean.

AI (Artificial Intelligence)

AI is essentially a simulation of human-intelligence processes using onboard computing. AI can be as simple as a pre-programmed flight plan where the pilot creates a mission and sends the drone out to fly that mission. In that instance, the drone is simulating the human's input at each waypoint, but in a much more accurate way. This eliminates errors or result variance caused by human input.

Battery Health Management

An electric UV is only as capable as the batteries from which it receives power. The health of those batteries can be affected by a number of issues such as climate, cycles, storage, and more which can reduce the life of the batteries.

EO/IR cameras/sensors (EO = Electro-optical, IR = infrared)

A camera/sensor that is EO/IR means it has both an electro-optical camera/sensor as well as an infrared camera/sensor. EO is more commonly referred to as a visual spectrum camera or an RGB camera, meaning it sees red, green, and blue just like our eyes do, similar to an iPhone camera. IR, or infrared, in almost all drone-related cases is referring to thermal imaging. A thermal camera/sensor can see infrared radiation.  

IP (Ingress Protection) Rating

Ingress Protection refers to the protection against hazards such as dust or water. Some UV applications are only carried out in fair weather conditions while others may require use in harsh environments such as rain or blowing dust. It is extremely important to consider your use case and what protections you might need.

Live Streaming

Live streaming is taking a video feed from any number of sensors and then re-broadcasting that signal to other devices. Livestreaming can exponentially increase the value of a UAS program by instantaneously putting data in the hands of decision-makers.

OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer)

OEM is generally the manufacturer of a product or a company that makes a device from components bought from other organizations. It's very common in the automobile industry for a customer to ask, "Is that part OEM?" which would be somebody confirming that a part is a "genuine" part. An OEM part is a part that came directly from the car manufacturer's factory and is not an aftermarket or "knock-off" part. The same thing applies to spare parts for drones. A part that we buy directly from DJI, for example, would be considered an OEM DJI part.


Multispectral generally refers to a camera or payload made up of multiple sensors that each detect reflected energy within a specific band. Multispectral sensors are usually comprised of 3-10 individual sensors (they look like small camera lenses) that are each responsible for measuring a specific band. Bands can be red, green, blue, near-infrared (NIR), infrared, etc.

How are multispectral sensors used?

Multispectral sensors are used in agriculture to create normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) images, which are simply graphical representations of the amount of live, green vegetation present with the scene. Multispectral cameras cannot detect the cause of the issue, meaning it won't spit out a report that says a specific area is dead because of parasites or dehydration, but you will easily be able to look at a field of a crop (has to be the same type of crop for best results) and immediately detect dead areas or areas that are less vegetative.


A payload is the attachment or cargo of a vehicle. They include sensors, munitions, equipment, or other items that aren't required for flight.

Payload Drop Systems

This device is designed to be able to carry a payload or object and then release it once given a command, or when a specific weight is reached. Payload Drop Systems can be extremely helpful in Search and Rescue situations when delivering floatation devices or supplies.

Situational Awareness

Situational awareness is awareness of your surroundings. When piloting a drone, you can get tunnel vision looking at a camera feed and might lose sight of an incoming aircraft, another drone, a bird, etc. Situational awareness is enhanced by incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) to make sure you are aware of nearby obstacles, incoming manned aircraft, your altitude above the ground, and your distance away from the pilot or home point.

Looking for a drone with specific situational awareness capabilities?

The DJI Matrice 300 RTK (also referred to as the M300) has a radar display that shows colors based on how close an object is and a remote that beeps to alert you if you get too close to an obstacle. The M300 also has a Primary Flight Display (PFD) which provides information such as the altitude and distance from the pilot as an overlay on the forward-facing camera feed.

Most DJI drones have ADS-B In, a signal that is received from other manned aircraft that provides the approximate location, altitude, and direction of travel of the manned aircraft.

Thermal Imaging

Thermal images provide a visual representation of temperature variations within a scene (what is in view of the camera at a given time) converted from infrared radiation. Thermal imaging shows the variance in temperature by using the hottest point at your scene as the maximum and the coldest point as the minimum. Then, based on that scale, it illustrates the relative temperature of everything within the scene.

Looking for a drone with thermal imaging capabilities?

DJI’s Matrice 30T is equipped with a 640x512 high-resolution thermal sensor and can deploy in under 60 seconds. Perfect for most public safety call-outs.

Skydio’s X2E color/thermal sports a FLIR Boson 320x256 infrared camera with 8x thermal zoom. Ready for any night-time mission, the precision GPS, inertial navigation system and intelligence enable precise flight navigation and guidance.


A waypoint is a preset stopping point on a route. You set waypoints at every location where you want your drone to complete an action. This action could be simply stopping, or it could be going to a specific altitude and facing a certain direction. Some modern drones (like the M300) allow you to set a specific camera or payload orientation and zoom level if it has an appropriate camera.

Did our terminology explanations point you in the direction of the type of drone you’d like to get? Request a free quote on our website today. If you have any questions about other UAV terms, don’t hesitate to contact us. UVT is happy to help you any way we can.

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