Like with many other inventions, the history of drones begins with war. The concept of an unmanned aerial vehicle was a dream for militaries around the world and had been pursued since as early as WWI. However it would take until WW2 for basic drones to be deployed for spy missions against the Axis powers. Fast-forward to the preset day, drones are used for much more mundane purposes and are vital for monitoring, research and inspection in many commercial fields.
Drones have successfully been deployed in every major natural disaster response since the early 2010s. They mainly are used in search and rescue but are also used to clear debris and scout for dangerous terrain. Search and rescue drones are equipped with 3d mapping technology and can assist with mapping out damaged infrastructure as well as identify victims. In 2017 drones equipped with thermal sensors were used to help fight the Creek and Skirball wildfires in LA County by identifying “hotspots” so that firefighters could quickly respond to changing wind conditions.
Archaeologists have recently discovered how vital drones are for their research as many sensitive sites are too dangerous to traverse by foot. Furthermore, researchers risk damaging artifacts or even collapsing entire structures if they carelessly excavate. With LIDAR equipped drones, they’re able to explore areas non-invasively and map out the entire area so that they have a better idea of how to excavate.
There have been more and more examples of drones revolutionizing the agricultural industry with instances of farmers using drones to fertilize crops, herding animals, and even measuring soil conditions. These are all early examples, but it’s only a matter of time before drone technology revolutionizes the agricultural industry.
In many states, military surplus drones are used by local governments to monitor traffic and help enforce speed limits. If you’ve ever seen signs that say “speed monitored by radar”, there’s a good chance you’ve been under the watchful eye of a retired Predator drone. Luckily they won’t shoot missiles at you if you’re speeding.
Drones are often used by real estate developers to survey plots of land as it is faster and more efficient than doing it manually. Drone footage is also used to keep clients in the loop about progress and 3d scans of the site can be used to identify vulnerabilities early on. Additionally, drones are used for monitoring build sites to make sure things are running smoothly. Although drone application in this field is still in its infancy, many large construction companies are investing heavily in this sector as they see the potential benefits of drone use moving forward.
Municipal governments around the world often use drones to help with dangerous tasks and help with routine inspections. In Japan they have used drones equipped with flamethrowers to clear damaged power lines. Other jobs such as bridge inspection, sewage inspection, and windmill inspection are all slowly being taken over by drones. Geographical mapping has also been indispensable when it comes to planning public utility projects such as dams.
In 2013 Amazon began heavily investing in drone delivery technology. Their goal was to deploy drones as the “last-mile” delivery for their products. In 2019 they submitted a petition to the FAA for approval for their drone delivery network and were approved in August of 2020. Naturally they aren’t the only ones interested in this technology; other companies such as UPS and Alphabet’s Wing are also attempting to use drones as delivery networks and were both also approved by the FAA.
In the olden days, we would fly large unwieldy weather balloons up into the atmosphere to gather temperature, humidity, and wind data. The drawbacks of using weather balloons is that they can’t be controlled and often cannot be retrieved. These days, forecasting agencies have begun transitioning to specialized weather drones to gather this data. Weather drones can be controlled with great precision and can be used over and over again. Due to this, the quality and quantity of data recorded with drones is much higher and weather models are able to more accurately predict upcoming weather.
As a result of the increasing interest and investment in drones, drone costs have plummeted, as a result, it is now financially feasible for warehouse managers to deploy fleets of drones using consumer hardware. There also have been numerous companies formed that offer SaaS solutions for autonomous drone fleets. What this means is that warehouses can easily deploy fleets of drones to act as perimeter security, inspect incoming cargo, scan barcodes, and identify specific items.
Poaching in Africa has been largely curtailed by the use of drones to help monitor endangered species. Drones are used in a variety of ways including flock counting, herding, migration tracking, and perimeter security. This has allowed activists to manage larger areas of land without having to physically patrol the area. There are even a variety of off-the-shelf anti-poaching drones available for purchase.
Although drone fishing rarely comes to mind when people think of “drone uses”, it does have the potential to drastically alter the fishing industry. Drones can be used to scout out where fish are congregating and advanced models can even cast and pull fish for you! Drone fishing effectively allows you to turn fishing into a giant crane game!
Photography and Videography
It goes without saying that drones have fundamentally changed the way videographers and photographers approach their craft. Breathtaking aerial shots that could only be accomplished via helicopter before, can now be achieved with the most basic of drones. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that a drone has become a must in every amateur and professionals’ toolkit.
As the car was invented, racing became a thing so it’s no wonder that drone racing exists as well. Drone racers control the the drone using FPV goggles, navigating through tight courses, making quick turns.
Besides drone racing, some enthusiasts have found ways to play things like drone soccer and drone basketball. FPV Drone racing has also seen a boom in recent years as drones have become increasingly more accessible. FPV Drone racing has numerous international competitions and even have a governing body that sanctions events. As of 2019, drone soccer was also added as a provisional class. You can learn more at https://www.fai.org/sport/drones.
With every new technology, a new medium for art is also born. Every time mankind has invented a new technology, we’ve found ways to express ourselves through them. Drones, of course, are no different. Artists have used recreational drones from the very beginning to perform synchronized air shows, used them as a mobile light array, and even used them for controversial political expression. Tech-savvy artists are constantly finding new ways to push the boundaries of new technologies and often help inform the future development of those technologies.