The Evolution of the Drone: Where we started… and where we’re going

You’ve probably seen a drone before, small and compact, zipping overhead. We use them to take stunning aerial shots, kids fly them for fun, soldiers deploy them in war. Big businesses like Amazon are even using them for package delivery. But drones weren’t always the ubiquitous flying wonders we know and love today.

Initially, drones were solely used by the military. And the first iterations of the technology actually dates as far back as the 19th century, when Austrian soldiers utilized unmanned balloons to drop explosives on Venice in 1849. When the Wright Brothers brought flight to the public consciousness in 1903, people starting realizing they could used pilotless aircrafts. Nikola Tesla, the famous inventor and engineer, even had a hand in the first designs — he tried and failed to sell a radio controlled boat to the U.S. Navy.


Learn about Drone history


The real progress started with the Ruston Proctor Aerial Target, a device considered to be the first real drone. It was created by Archibald Low, the “father of radio guidance systems,” who let his invention pave the way for further development. This unmanned aircraft was invented in 1916 during World War One, as military technology was rapidly expanding.

The time between the first and second World Wars was spent refining existing drone technology. The excitement came from the possibility to expand upon cruise missiles, which were single use. A drone, on the other hand, was simply a carrier, and could be reused. It was also incredibly useful as a training tool, and drones were frequently used as aerial target practice before World War Two. One such device, DH.82B Queen Bee, was thought to be the introduction into the term “drone.” In the 1930s, drone only referred to these aerial targets, but during the war the terms started to encompass any unmanned flying vehicle.


Drones in the air


Drones continued to dominate military technology, constantly being improved upon. Now, however, it seems we’ve realized the potential for drone technology to improve our daily lives, not just in times of war. Disney used 300 drones for their 2016 Christmas light show, and in the U.S. alone there are 538,172 registered recreational drones (and 314,689 commercial ones). Agriculture is a big industry that utilizes drones, and UberEats has even tested drone delivery.

Next time you see a drone whizzing by, take a moment to remember its humble origins as simple small balloons carried by the wind, deployed by radio frequency signals. What started as a military tactic has turned into a commercial and recreational boom, and has become a staple in our modern lives. Who knows where drones will go next?

Let us know in the comments what you think about drones. Do you have one, or would you buy one? What would you use it for?