I realise that the differences between 'autopilot' and 'autonomous' are comparable to a car having 'cruise control' or 'self-driving' capabilities, but I feel the distinctions aren't made clear in the tag descriptions:

Questions tagged

Any software system that allows a UAV to fly fully autonomously.

Questions tagged

Something that guides or controls all or part of its own functions.

I feel that these tags, given their descriptions, are used more or less interchangeably and should either:

  • Be modified to make them distinct from each other
  • Be merged together as synonyms

What are your thoughts on this matter?


1 Answer 1


I think there is an important but small difference; although I think we are slightly comparing apples to pears. I would use the following, but I haven't checked whether the questions we have are using the terms in this way:

  • An autonomous aircraft can operate completely independently of a remote pilot - such as able to make its own collision avoidance decisions.
  • An automatic aircraft is controlled by a computer or other machine without a human. It follows the flight which it was programmed to fly.
  • An autopilot is a system which facilitates one of the above.

(I'm fairly sure I first heard the autonomous/automatic distinction from the UK CAA, but I can't find where at the moment so perhaps I've made that up!)

  • $\begingroup$ Define "operate independently". This can have any level of meaning we wish, it all depends on the task at hand. $\endgroup$ May 18, 2020 at 18:40
  • $\begingroup$ Were you thinking of CAP 722, perhaps? $\endgroup$ May 19, 2020 at 1:08
  • $\begingroup$ Good find - CAP722 definitely says what I was thinking of; not sure that's where I first read it (I think an email or ORS document?) but it reassures me that I haven't made it up! $\endgroup$
    – Kralc
    May 19, 2020 at 7:33

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