Drone Autonomy

Drone Autonomy can be described as the ability of a drone to independently decide on a course of action and react to environmental triggers.

8 levels of evolution of drone autonomy.

Evolution of drone solutions

Drone Autonomy – a history.

In the 4 to 5 years that advances in cellular technologies have enabled drones to become accessible to consumers and commercial enterprises, the deployment of drone based solutions have matured significantly. 

In commerce and government agencies in particular the adoption of drone based solutions have accelerated with an increasing sophistication in the way drones are integrated in business process and systems.

This post suggests a brief view on the levels that drone based solutions have evolved to.
From where the drone WAS the solution to where the drone disappears into the solution, and the role of the operator becomes less significant as drone autonomy takes increasing hold.

At the highest level we are seeing “Unattended, lookaway, operations” where alerts provided only when required to the business process owner and operations takes care of itself.

The following table provides an over view of the various levels that drone solutions design has progressed through.

Levels of drone autonomy


1. Pilot Operated.

This is man and machine stuff. This phase involves a just a pilot and his/her drone in Line of Sight (LOS) or First Person View (FPV) flight modes, with little or no automation. Flight times are shorter and drones smaller and proportionally includes much of the consumer market. Here the operator does everything, from startup, recharged and flying the drone. At this level, the drone IS the solution.

2. Flight Plan Operated.

Letting go. The drone flies by itself. Commercial applications come into stronger focus in this level. Drones are larger, and fly further. Payloads are still single and weak, and flights’ single purpose.


3. Responsive to obstacles.

Detect and avoid. Drones are becoming more intelligent and independent as well as safer. Payloads become more powerful and dual payloads become more popular. Drones are still becoming larger

4. Post Processing.

Multi-purpose and more powerful payloads. Longer flights, bigger drones are still the trend. Mission objectives become dual purpose. Datalink connectivity improves is still limited and thin with processing done after the flight.

5. Realtime, inflight, processing.

Connectivity improves with datalinks being able to extended LAN like networking conditions, and encrypted security, to the the mobile UAV platform over extended distances. Processing now gets done realtime during the flight. Flights are still longer, and drones bigger.


6. Automatic fulfillment of mission objectives.

Cloud based technologies come increasingly into play providing inflight access to a wider variety of supportive utilities.


7. Independent, reactive to mission triggers.

With AI , and access to the cloud, drones are increasingly able to react independently to mission triggers.


8. Unattended surveillance.

Advances in control software allows missions to be shared amongst drones. Fleets of smaller, off the shelf drones are deployed in concert with one another, and other terrestrial and non-terrestrial Technologies, to achieve common purposes. Human involvement is decreased to event driven alerts of exceptions in operations. Here the drone becomes coincidental and the solution takes the foreground.

Drones are becoming just another element in the design of technology solutions.