Almost as soon as the Predator program was launched in September of 2001 (just days after the September 11th attacks), it became the most recognizable unmanned flying machine in the world. It only took a couple months before it was weaponized, and then it also became one of the most feared military aircraft.
To this day, drones are one of the strongest points to our military, and it will likely become stronger as more parts of our armed forces find new and better ways of using them.
Unmanned devices have been around longer than you might think. The French used unmanned hot air balloons to test out wind conditions before they would send up a manned balloon.
In 1806 the England’s Royal Navy flew kites from a thirty-two-gun frigate, the HMS Pallas, which dropped propaganda leaflets over the French coast.
In 1898 Nikola Tesla used his voice to turn the engine of a radio controlled boat on and off in front of a large crowd in New York.
Reginald Denny, a screen actor, and modeler made and sold nine-foot long RC model planes for the US military to use as target practice. This was back in 1934
Germany introduced the world to the first radio-controlled missile in 1943. The FX-1400 bomb hand four wings that could be controlled ground or the plane it was dropped from. This allowed the German army to do more damage with fewer bombs.
Modern US unmanned air vehicles started during the Vietnamese conflict. The Albatross and the Amber were a major step up in delivering Intel to the troops in the jungles.
And that brings us to today.
In the military, there are more remote pilots being trained currently than fighter and bomber pilots combined.
And unmanned vehicles aren’t only being developed for flight. The US and other countries are developing underwater unmanned vehicles that are capable of surveillance as well as attacking.
Like many advancements in technology, we have seen the greatest jumps during a war and for military use.
However, that is currently changing.
Some of the biggest strides forward in the use and advancements are coming through the advancement of humanitarian aid and rescue.
Each year the United Arab Emirates holds a competition called Drones for Good Award. Engineers, technicians, and hobbyists from all around the world compete to show their drones for a chance to win big money. From the UAE Drones of Good website, “The UAE Drones for Good Award is dedicated to transforming the innovative technology behind civilian drones into practical, realizable solutions for improving people’s lives today.”
Drones are currently being developed that are capable of delivering aid to areas that are hard to reach or dangerous for aid workers. Not only are they capable of delivering food and water, but drones could also deliver tents for shelter, medicine, and in some circumstances they could be used to transport people out of dangerous areas as well.
Lost hikers are easier to find with the help of drones that have infrared cameras. Paired with GPS, these hikers exact location is given to rescuers. Also, the drone could use 3D imaging and mapping to help determine the best route for rescuers to help the lost hikers.
Drones are also being used to advance some areas of businesses as well.
In Japan, several farmers are using remote controlled planes or helicopters to deliver pesticides and fertilizer to their crops. It is estimated that a third of the rice grown is done with the aid of RC’s.
Aerial imaging could also help farmers. MDVI cameras can show what crops are unhealthy and thermal imaging can show how efficiently crops are being watered.
BioCarbon Engineering is working on a drone that has an air powered gun that will fire pods into the ground. Each pod will have tree seeds as well as the fertilizer and moisture required for the seed to take root in the soil. Using a pre-programmed map, this drone will be able to shoot a couple hundred pods into the ground in measured increments allowing for fast and efficient replanting of trees.
Drones possibly will become standard on construction sites. Along side cranes, drones could be used to move materials around the site. On a smaller level, drones could be controlled or programmed to collect bricks and lay them in place for someone to cement them in.
Building bridges in remote areas become easier with the help of drones. A drone could carry a cable across a ravine easier than a hiker could climb down one side and back up the other while pulling a cable for the bridge.
We may see drones washing windows and cleaning our streets.
3D mapping is another area where drones are currently being used. Christ the Redeemer was 3D mapped by the company Pix4D. The 3D map of the statue will be used for restoration purposes if it ever got damaged.
3D mapping could also be used in video games. Instead of taking countless hours coding an entire landscape, a drone could map out an entire city and that map could be imported into a game.
Film and photography are another areas where we are seeing more drones being used. Drones are replacing the use of some cranes and helicopter shots on set. This is making sets safer and shots easier and cheaper. However, the major obstacle for drone shots is the wind. No director wants his shot to move out of frame because of the wind. But more advance stabilization algorithms are being created every day, and different types of wing configurations are allowing for more stable flight even in higher winds.
In 2014, Jerry Bruckheimer successfully lobbied to allow exceptions for the use of drones for the purposes of filmmaking. He did this so he could film Top Gun 2. He stated that the flying scenes would all be filmed with the use of drones instead of actual jets that were used for the first film.
Drone racing is a thing and will probably grow in popularity in the next several years. These races are fast and often-in tight indoor spaces like arenas and shopping malls. A group of people is trying to figure out if there is a viable way of introducing weapons onto the racing drones to increase the entertainment value.
In 2014 both Google and Facebook both purchased solar powered drone companies and announced their plans on having drones that will provide internet coverage in remote parts of the world.
We have also seen several companies claim that they intend to offer autonomous package delivery. Having drones deliver packages would free up humans to do other work, and those deliveries could be made faster. However, with autonomous deliveries, we face new problems. Packages could be stolen, shot down, or even hijacked.
A Silicon Valley start-up created an app called TacoCopter that deliver tacos to people as long as they were in the delivery zone. The app had a short life before the FAA shut them down.
For a concert, drones can be programmed to fly in patterns and light up in sequence adding to the immersive feeling of those in attendance.
On a much smaller note, imagine having a personal reading light that continuously reads were the page and your face is to automatically adjust giving the reader the best lighting while reading in a dark room.
There are thousands of more areas and uses for drones. And the development of drone technology is still in its infancy. It will be exciting to see what the future has in store for us.