Nowadays, drone applications can be found in almost every aspect of our lives. But before they became the worldwide phenom they are today, drones were once a reserve of the military.
The Evolution of Drones From Military to Hobby Commercial
Thanks to continuous technological advancements and the downward revision of prices, drones have become an integral part of everyday life. So, just how did quads go from dropping bombs in battle zones to delivering packed lunch at our doorsteps?
In this post, we take you on a journey down memory lane by looking at the evolution of drones.
Military Use of Drones
According to some historians, the history of drones can be traced as far back as the mid-1800s. This is when armies from Europe would employ unmanned balloon aircraft to deploy bombs. However, it was the advent of fixed-wing aircraft in the early 1900s that brought about a new generation of drones.
During WWI, the US developed some drone weapons, but these were not utilized until after the end of the war. Drones made a bolder reemergence in the WWII era as a surveillance tool. In the succeeding cold war period, the USSR and US used drones expansively for covert missions in the form of surveillance and spying.
However, more modern use of drones in the military took effect in 1982 after the Israeli Air Force utilized drones to decimate the Syrian Army. Used as a weapon, a decoy, as well as a surveillance tool, the Israeli incorporated the adoption of drones into a more contemporary battlefield setting.
This lesson from the Israeli inspired major military powers like the US to start drone research and investment programs in their respective national forces. For the US, aggressive development of war drones began in the early ‘80s; a period that witnessed the birth of the Predator MQ-10 drone system.
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This was followed by the gradual addition of weapons and innovative system controls to achieve a more sophisticated drone arsenal. Thanks to this, drone systems proved to be a more preferred method of delivering precise strikes with little and remote human control.
In the modern world, drones are an integral part of the American military arsenal. They are not only effective across a broad range of terrains, climates, and battlefields but also guard the human operator against any risk.
The Emergence of Commercial Drones
After 150 years of drone research and development in the military, the first non-military application of drones was recorded in 2006, which is also the year that the FAA (Federal Aviation Association) started issuing commercial drone permits.
This caused different government agencies to begin experimenting with drone technologies for border surveillance and disaster relief as corporations started using them in commercial applications such as crop examination and pipeline inspection.
Despite all this, it would take another ten years for the commercial drone industry to truly take off.
Drones for Recreational (Hobbyist) Use
Although commercial drones struggled to become mainstream in the face of choking regulations, personal and hobby drones thrived under more lenient scrutiny. Most of the hobby drones, which became more mainstream in 2013, adopted a more compact design and were relatively budget-friendlier compared to their commercial counterparts.
On average, these cost around $2000 but shed sophisticated features such as the sensors and software found on commercial drones. In the US, hobby drones managed to evade the regulatory hiccups faced by commercial drones thanks to Section 336, which prevented the FAA from enacting rules that would limit them.
As long as the drone was under 250g, meant for recreational applications, and didn’t interfere with other manned aircraft, there was very little to worry about.
Since 2013, hobby drones have become more widespread and grown into a multi-billion-dollar industry. In 2017 alone, recreational quadcopters accounted for about $2.4 billion of the overall $6 billion drone market. (Looking for a cheap hobby drone…read this review).
Studies also showed that approximately 3 million personal drones were on course to be rolled out in the same year. By the time 2018 came around, countries like the US, China, and Israel were investing research funds to incorporate drone applications into day-to-day activities such as photography, taxi services, and indoor applications.
The success of Hobby and Commercial Drones
Today, drones are a fad in contemporary society. Add this to the advent of social media and you get hobbyist drones equipped with HD cameras. The term “dronie” was coined to describe an aerial “selfie” taken by a drone.
Amateur and professional photographers today capture high-quality footage that they, later on, edit using different photo and video editing programs during the post-processing stage. Personal drones also continue to grow in popularity thanks to their overall affordability.
Some people even treat them as an extension of their smartphones, using them to take photos and shoot videos to post on social media. For budding influencers and social media marketers, these helpful tips will enhance your engagement on Instagram.
For commercial drones in the US, their fortunes changed in 2016 when the Part 107 rule defined precisely the regulations for commercial use. This opened the door for commercial drone operations and the FAA has been issuing commercial drone permits in the thousands since then.
Industrial sites and agriculture were the first major markets for commercial drone applications. Drones were used in crop management, inspection, and farm surveillance. Nevertheless, given the tight margins in agriculture, other industries like renewable energy, utilities, mining, and port terminals have since overtaken it as far as adoption of the technology is concerned.
According to previous research by Gartner, the use of drones for inspection was expected to account for almost 30% of the entire commercial quadcopter market by 2020. For a long time, the largest hurdle in the adoption of commercial drones has been the human operator cost.
It is due to this that autonomous drone technology has emerged as a reliable alternative meant to reduce the cost of using drones for commercial purposes. Furthermore, this growing need for autonomous commercial drones boosted the market by almost $1 billion between 2016 and 2017.
The Future of Drones
The future of drone technology couldn’t look any brighter!! Many research centers suggest that the global drone industry will continue to grow in the coming years. According to Business Insider, worldwide drone shipments will rise to approximately 2.4 million by 23%.
This growth will mainly affect four major segments of the business industry; and these will include mining, agriculture, construction, and media & telecommunication. Drones are still expected to play a key role in military activities.
The only thing is that they will be smaller, lighter, and have higher-quality batteries for longer flight times. Other aspects of the drone that will experience significant improvements will be optics and stealth.
As far as the civilian market is concerned, developments will be focused more on flight times to allow drones to act as delivery platforms for emergency services, as well as for data collection in areas too risky for humans such as fires, volcanos, and power plants.
We’ll also see more drones finding their way into the classroom and changing the way learners are taught.
Miniaturization will also be a huge influence on the drones of the future. As manufacturers strive to reduce the size of components to conserve resources, we expect drones to dramatically reduce in size.
So don’t be surprised when micro-drones become a thing in commercial and military applications soon!
Drones are one of the top technology trends today, but this was not the case when they first came to be. So, as you play with your newly bought mini drone, it wouldn’t hurt to get acclimated with the evolution of drones as explained in this article.