Many have heard the faraway whir of a traveling drone or seen the mysterious robots high above at an outdoor event, but few people realize to what extent the drone has impacted our past and present society. Drones played a vital role in World War I, and they continue to be used for increasingly important purposes in the world today. The history of drones is a fascinating subject spanning decades and geographical areas. The advanced technology that allows robots to take to the sky without human pilots is used in a wide range of fields from photography to farming to law enforcement.
It is without a doubt that drones have immensely influenced our world, but experts debate whether this impact is positive or negative. While it is human nature to stretch the limits of our intelligence and continue advancing, some would say we have a tendency to choose progress over the needs of civilians.
The evolution of drones gives hope for exciting new possibilities regarding technology, but an independently moving camera flying above our homes with unrestricted access into our lives also produces a certain uneasiness. As drone technology continues to progress, society will have to find a balance between technological advancement and protecting privacy.
What Are Drones?
Drones are aerial vehicles that can fly without human pilots, also called UAVs or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. They are flying robots that operate with flight plans in their systems using GPS to control their paths. Drones are sometimes used by tech-savvy individuals as a hobby, and they are also an excellent way to capture incredible photographs from vantage points unreachable by humans. Few people realize how wide-ranging the use of drones truly is.
Drones are used for many things, including:
The ultimate purpose of a drone is to provide access to areas that humans cannot see with their own eyes. This ability helps militaries to access the territories of their enemies without endangering soldiers, and it allows governmental agencies to find information that would otherwise be unavailable. Drones widen the possibilities for humans regarding knowledge acquisition, territory control, and much more.
The History of Drones
Drones have been used for a wide variety of purposes over time and have had a crucial influence on historical events and politics. They were invented during World War I to carry and drop explosives in the enemy's territory without endangering the lives of soldiers. The first mention of the possibility for an unmanned flight was in 1898 by inventor Nikola Tesla, who explained his new radio-control technology to astounded audiences. He foresaw that radio wave technology would eventually be used for warfare and destruction as advanced technology often is.
The Automatic Airplane
When World War I began, the U.S. tried to put Tesla's ideas into practice by inserting a radio wave controlled system into certain pilotless air crafts. One of the most complicated attempts was the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane, a project run by the U.S. Navy and inventors Peter Hewitt and Elmer Sperry to create an airplane that can function as a bomber or torpedo run by radio waves. To achieve this, they needed to design a way to maintain the aircraft's stability in the air.
To accomplish pilotless stability, they installed a system that could control the altitude and the wing and tail parts, along with a function for measuring how far the aircraft has flown. This was all achieved using radio waves, and it was the perfect way to create a pre-determined course that would lead the drone to crash into a target or drop an explosive at a certain point.
The science and research behind these radical ideas was convincing enough for the U.S. Navy to select seven planes to be designed with the new technology and give $200,000 to the creation of the Automatic Airplane. Despite the high hopes and elaborate research, the test launches all failed and the test planes were destroyed in the process. However, one flying launch of a bomb was successful, proving that the idea was at least possible in some form.
The Kettering Bug
As the navy put their efforts toward the Automatic Airplane, the U.S. Army ran a different project based on the idea of the aerial torpedo. Elmer Sperry and a researcher at General Motors, Charles Kettering, worked together to create a control system for the torpedo. Along with the help of Orville Wright, they successfully designed an autopilot plane that was computerized to drop a bomb on a pre-set target.
In 1918, the Kettering Bug, as the autopilot plane was dubbed, succeeded in its test flight. Excited for the possibilities that this suggested, the army then ordered for more pilotless air crafts to be created. However, the Kettering Bug was never put to use because of the concern that the plane could glitch before reaching its goal. Although neither of these models was utilized in the end, they were extremely important in their roles as precursors to current day missiles.
Drones in Combat
After the debut of the unmanned plane in World War I, the British Royal Navy continued developing radio wave technology, creating air crafts with the capacity to follow enemy planes. One such drone named the Havilland Tiger Moth airplane was often referred to as the Queen Bee, which is believed to be the origin of the name "drone." This advancement resulted in helping the United States more than Britain as a worker in the Flying Corps moved to the United States and began producing drones and providing the U.S. Army with prototypes. By the time World War II was over, the army and navy had fifteen thousand drones at their disposal.
Throughout World War II, drones were used in combat for the first time. Nazi Germany played a large part in the history of drones, as they employed a "flying bomb" to aim for civilians in cities, run by an autopilot program able to hold 2,000-pound warheads for over 150 miles. This caused the deaths of 10,000 civilians and caused injury to about 28,000 more.
After the war ended, the U.S. military used drones for reconnaissance missions, which led to the creation of the Ryan Firebee. In 1951, this aircraft was shown to be able to stay in the air for two hours at 60,000 feet in the air. Similar crafts were utilized during the Vietnam War and the Cold War, along with air crafts made for spy missions.
As technology continued to advance, armed drones—a step up from guided missiles—began to be used on the battlefield. These new drones could be managed from thousands of miles away through a satellite, and they could travel 400 nautical miles and stay in the air for 14 continuous hours. In 2001, a Predator drone made history by launching the first attack in combat in Kandahar, Afghanistan with the goal to assassinate Mullah Mohammed Omar, a suspected Taliban leader. The strike was unsuccessful, but this was a crucial moment in the history of drones, as it marked the beginning of radio wave technology being used in this manner.
Unfortunately, the history of drones is full of destruction and sadness because of the many lives lost during strikes. Over the last 17 years, unmanned combat aerial vehicles such as the Predator have been used in thousands of missions and accidentally led to the deaths of 6,000 or more civilians. A report of drones completed in 2016 revealed that since 2009, around 2,500 combatants have been killed by drone combat strikes.
Although the history of drones is centered on the military, they are used today in many fields by a variety of people. Drones have become crucial to the success of many businesses and organizations, helping to advance certain industries and expand the options for many companies. They are used to improve production and efficiency, increasing accuracy and lowering costs of production and workload. They are used in security on a global scale for their ability to record and perceive places and events in ways that would be impossible for humans.
Drones have become a major fad in businesses, but they are yet to become a commonplace item for individuals and companies. It is predicted that their popularity will grow as their technology becomes more advanced and a larger number of businesses recognize the potential for efficiency. It is indisputable that drones increase the possibilities for labor production on a grand scale. The main industries that utilize drones are commercial, military, personal and future technology.
The history of drones is full of complicated developments and unexpected setbacks, but it is undeniable that they allow humans to access places and perspectives that would otherwise be impossible. They accomplish this with a minimal amount of effort and manpower, allowing individuals and businesses to increase their abilities without increasing energy and time. Despite the long history of drones as contributors to destruction and war, they benefit many individuals and businesses by expanding the possibilities and overcoming our human limits.