The Origins and History Of Drones, UAV’s and Unmanned Aircraft

History of Drones

Drones seem ubiquitous in our modern lives.  They are in the news, and above our heads when we walk outside. They serve all sorts of purposes, both military and civilian, and are changing the way the world works. We can, without a doubt, proclaim that we are living in the “Age of the Drone.” Civilians can easily survey the ground from a high altitude without ever setting foot in an airplane. Military engagements can occur without unnecessarily putting soldiers’ lives at risk. Companies such as Amazon are considering using them to make simple home deliveries without the aid of human workers. But what is a drone exactly? Where did they come from? Do they have a single inventor?  If so, who invented them? In this short article, we’ll be looking at the history of drones and how they burst onto the consumer market, seeming to appear nearly everywhere in recent years.

What is a Drone?

It seems like an obvious question, but first we’ll look at the answer to what exactly a drone is. A drone is simply an aerial device that is completely unmanned, controlled from the ground via radio waves. A drone is different from the radio-controlled helicopters of yore (more or less the direct predecessor of consumer drones) in that they have some level of autonomy. For instance, drones can self-stabilize without any direct input from the user. Actually, this is why consumer drones normally have multiple rotors.  They are often quadcopters, meaning they have 4 rotors although some have more. All types of drones could more correctly be referred to as an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV.  The acronym UAV is used to refer to military drones, but consumer models could also be grouped under this heading. Although they function in the same way, through radio waves, military drones and consumer drones are of course vastly different. The main use of the former is for military engagements, whereas the main use of the later is for recreational purposes.  They posses the same technology being used for opposite approaches.

Where Drones Came From

History - Military Drone
Drones were originally created solely for military use. The V-1 flying bomb developed by Nazi Germany, and used for incredibly deadly and destructive precision strikes, especially on London, is often considered to be the first military drone. This is fairly accurate. The V-1 seems almost like an evolutionary ancestor of the modern Predator drone. A major difference between the V-1 and the drones of today however, is that V-1s were “dumb”. Meaning that once they were launched they were not able to be controlled from the ground. The FX-1400, also used by the Nazis, was the world’s first remotely-controlled munition used. The drone can not be said to have a single inventor, although Nikola Tesla was the first to demonstrate the operation of a remote-controlled device in the form of a small boat in the late 19th-century.  He was also known for predicting that drones would be used for military purposes in the future.

Around a decade after the end of World War II the first improvised space satellite was launched into orbit by the Soviet Union. Over the following decades GPS would be devised. GPS and drones are a match made in heaven (or perhaps orbit), as GPS allows for easy navigation and pinpoint strikes for the drone. By 1995 the Predator drone, developed by General Atomics, was introduced. By 2017 is has been simultaneously praised for killing enemy combatants of the United States but also criticized for resulting in the deaths of civilians. It was first used in 2001 in an attack in Kandahar, Afghanistan in an effort to eliminate Taliban leader Mohammed Omar.  This marked the advent of true drone warfare in the modern understanding of the phrase.

Concerns and Possibilities for Consumer Drones

What about consumer drones? Consumer drones are more closely related to radio-controlled helicopters than to the exorbitantly expensive drones made for military use. They both have the same basic idea in that both are controlled through radio waves. Whereas military drones are used to deliver missiles or bombs, consumer drones are used for recreation or just to take pictures from the air. The proliferation of these quadcopters has lead to privacy concerns.  There has been controversy over whether or not drones should be allowed to disturb the peace and quiet of others.  For instance, Yosemite National Park has recently banned drones from operating above park grounds to try and ensure everyone can enjoy their trip without being bothered by noisy drones. Consumer-model drones have many more applications than just aerial photography. As mentioned earlier companies like Amazon have considered using them for commercial use. Law enforcement has even considered using them to reduce crime.

Conclusion and Future of Drones

The future of the drone will be interesting to observe, just as interesting as their origins in history. We can expect to see them used more and more in military operations, which is certainly a good thing.  Keeping soldiers out of harm’s way should be high on our military list of priorities. We can probably expect to see it drones more widely used by the commercial sector, with Amazon promising to roll out its “Amazon Prime Air” service sometime in the next few years. They will also be used for scientific purposes, such as climate study and for monitoring weather patterns, as well as surveillance to improve security.


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