It seems like everyone has a drone these days. A mere ten years ago, the idea of owning one seemed unthinkable, or at the very least, extremely costly. Nowadays, it’s at the top of everyone’s birthday and holiday wish list. It’s no wonder the market size is expected to grow to $63.6 billion by 2025. Drones are – as the kids say – the “in thing.”
What do balloons, miniature boats, and airplanes have in common? More than you might think. They are the building blocks that gave us our modern-day drones.
The concept of drone technology dates back over 200 years ago. By definition, a drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle. While they sometimes go by the fancier name of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), the concept is the same: No pilot.
By these standards, the hot-air balloon, invented in 1783 by the Montgolfier Brothers, could technically be considered the original drone. After all, it was the first aircraft to not require a human pilot. (Though it’s hard to imagine the fast-moving, stealthy drones of today have anything to do with those peaceful, floating orbs.) This idea of unmanned aircraft continued to evolve, and in 1839, Austrian soldiers used repurposed balloons to carry explosives across enemy lines. This backfired. Controlled only by the direction of the wind, some of the explosives ended up returning to their senders.
Fast forward a few years to 1898, and Nikola Tesla demonstrates the first-ever radio-controlled device. He maneuvers a miniature boat to the amazement of onlookers in Madison Square Gardens by encoding and decoding wave frequencies. They thought he was a magician.
Meanwhile, the Wright Brothers are down in North Carolina, inventing the airplane and radically changing how humans travel forever.
It didn’t take long for enterprising individuals to combine all three of these ideas: An unmanned aircraft that could carry cargo or weapons or be controlled from elsewhere. The idea of the drone was officially born.
The speed at which drone technology has evolved over the years has grown exponentially. While today they are used widely for recreational and commercial purposes (taking aerial photos, exploring the terrain, using in search-and-rescue operations, spying on your neighbors… just kidding, we don’t condone that), the early years were paved by the military:
Just like the Austrians and their floating bomb experiment, the military sought to use this technology for the purpose of war. The Aerial Target (1917) was one of the first attempts to turn a drone into a weapon by loading explosive charges onto an unmanned aircraft and directing it into enemy territory from the ground. The radio-controlled “Queen Bees” (1935) served as target practice for the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. Fast forward eighty years (the blink of an eye when held up against all of human history), and we now have drones that can perform reconnaissance missions, carry out counterterrorism strikes, do surveillance, gather intelligence, and even deliver weapons.
And to think it all started with a balloon.
While many countries have banned the use of drones, more and more have started to allow their operation within their borders, but often with stringent rules. India is one country that authorized the use of drones a few years ago, and they are now on track to become the world’s third-largest drone market by 2025.
But before you run out and buy a drone of your own, keep in mind that they are subject to DGCA regulations.
And there are a lot of them.
We recommend that you read the most updated regulations to ensure they comply and understand the rules around operating. In brief, here are a few of the highlights:
It’s exciting to imagine what the next five years will look like for drone technology – or the next five weeks, for that matter! Cutting-edge research and advancements are made every minute (drones controlled by a watch, anyone?), and we are seeing more and more opportunities to use them for the benefit of multiple sectors.
Drones made with 3D printing technology, for example, continue to grow in popularity, particularly with our ability to print-your-own-parts from home. Whether for the purpose of war, like submarines, or to deliver goods and packages, 3D print is a lightweight, easily customizable, and cost-effective alternative that can be used for military, commercial, and recreational use.
Other new prototypes in development include an autonomy-focused aerial reconnaissance drone and the Polestar electric roadster sports car that will (supposedly) launch a drone from the car’s rear and film as your drive. What will they think of next?
The sky truly is the limit.
Thinking of making a drone?