By Ben Wolfgang, The Washington Times

drone“Drone” is a dirty word at this week’s drone industry convention in Washington.

The sector long has opposed use of the term, seen by some as having an inherently negative connotation that doesn’t accurately describe the awesome technology and potential positive uses of today’s unmanned aerial vehicles.

Efforts to stop journalists, and the public at large, from using the word “drone” have failed miserably, but the industry hasn’t given up trying.

Inside the media room at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the WiFi password is the not-so-subtle phrase “DontSayDrones.”

The admonition has gone unheeded by reporters covering the convention, the largest drone industry gathering in the world. It’s being hosted by the sector’s top trade group, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), and has drawn speakers from the U.S. military, other arms of the federal government, renowned scientists, technology leaders and many others.

While the term “drone” — defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “an unmanned aircraft or ship guided by remote control” — likely will remain a part of the American lexicon as the craft become more prevalent, officials at AUVSI argue that journalists and others are missing the mark by using it.

The group’s president, Michael Toscano, said Wednesday that the word instantly conjures up mental images of large Predators firing missiles at hostile targets around the world.

“If you look around here today, you don’t see that,” he said.

Indeed, the showroom at the convention is filled with smaller craft that in the coming years will be used by farmers, oil and gas companies, first responders, the news media and a host of other industries.

Mr. Toscano also contended that the phrase “unmanned aerial system” more accurately describes the craft, which consists not just of a flying machine but also of data links, payloads and, most importantly, a human operator.

“The key word is the word ‘systems.’ That’s the word we hope the public will understand,” he said. “There is a human being in the system. The human being is what makes the system. When you say the word ‘drone,’ you don’t think of a human being in control. That’s the real reason why” not to use the word “drone,” he said.

  • Ben Wolfgang is a national reporter for The Washington Times. Before coming to the Times, he spent four years as a political reporter in Pennsylvania. His focus is on education and science policy. Ben lives in southeast D.C. and has played guitar in several bands while still in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at