Whether through infamy or innocuous use, on humanitarian missions or raining death from above, drones have risen to become part of modern civilisation.
Since the explosive development of the technology witnessed in the 1980s, drones have become an increasingly popular option for high risk tasks – such as wartime operations – or lengthy exercises, like search and rescue.
While the indiscriminate use of drones in a combat capacity has drawn criticism from human rights advocates the world over, the miniaturisation of the technology and cheaper manufacturing techniques mean that modern drones have found an increasing variety of uses in life outside the military complex – from home delivery to adventure photography and more.
Drones have been in use for several decades. Being at the forefront of innovation and design usually means technology like this finds its first use in the military.
Remote Piloted Vehicles (RPV) began development in earnest in the early 1900s, used as military training tools for anti-aircraft gunners.
Then in 1944, the Nazi German Luftwaffe began the wide scale development and use of the V-1 Flying Bomb, which flew unmanned autonomous bombing missions against enemy targets, usually London.
These early UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) used an automatic pilot system, guiding drones to their target through the use of gyroscopes, weights and timers. When all the preset values had been reached (distance travelled, height, compass heading), the bomb dropped from the sky.
Decades later, the US military would develop and use unmanned aircraft to avoid the loss of pilots during the Vietnam conflict.
But it wasn’t until 1973 that we saw the first modern incarnation of the drones we know today, when Israeli military developed the first live video streaming data-link system for real-time response and control of a jet-steering UAV.
Since then, the proliferation of drone use in a military capacity has come under increased scrutiny, with the world’s eyes turning regularly to the United States Air Force, which currently uses close to 7500 UAVs.
In February 2013, National Geographic reported that more than 50 countries around the globe employed the use of drones.
There are many levels of government that find regular use for drones in day-to-day business.
Sydney’s Sutherland Shire Council recently purchased a drone to provide “improved surveillance, monitoring and investigation of environmental matters”; that being, the monitoring of noxious weeds and illegal dumping, all captured in HD video.
Elsewhere in Sydney, Singleton Council use 3D topographic imaging, captured by drone, to measure landfill and help plan upgrades to its livestock saleyards.
Drones are also used by government agencies to search for illegal fishing operations along Australia’s coastlines.
Commercial enterprises large and small are jumping on board the drone craze.
Ambitious endeavours – like the home delivery of products – require a large amount of testing and co-operation with local authorities, but smaller businesses can make do with off-the-shelf drones to enhance their activities.
It may seem like a dream, but drone pizza delivery is here – and it’s here to stay. Russian pizza restaurant, DoDo Pizza, successfully made the first non-test delivery of pizza to a customer in June, 2013.
Other pizza restaurants across the world are developing a similar system, such as Francesco’s Pizza in Mumbai, India, and Domino’s Pizza UK, whose DomiCopter was announced last year to be in testing.
Global online shopping giant Amazon has been developing drone technology to enable home delivery of packages to customers in less than 30 minutes.
Called Amazon Prime Air, the service is still in testing phase in various locations around the world, but will one day replace traditional delivery trucks.
In October, 2014, delivery company DHL launched a ‘parcelcopter’ service, which flies between Germany and the German island of Juist, about 12 kilometres away in the North Sea. The service is for urgent goods – like medication – with the drone navigating across the sea to land at a dedicated helipad on the island, where a delivery driver takes the cargo for final delivery.
On a lesser scale, it’s also now common practice for real estate agents to use drone photography and video footage to market properties for sale.
In the aftermath of recent earthquakes in Nepal, a Canadian relief team used drones in the effort to search for victims still trapped in inaccessible areas and assess the damage to other structures.
While breathtakingly sad, the footage is a reminder that this technology has a more benevolent use beyond its originally conceived purpose.
From a recreational standpoint, all manner of drones are now available for private use.
Want to stand on a mountaintop while a drone circles overhead, capturing slow-motion video of your and your loved ones? This can be done, with the new Lily drone.
Just strap Lily’s personal tracker to your wrist and she’ll follow you anywhere, taking HD video footage of your every move. Down rivers, scaling mountainous terrain, snowboarding – there’s nowhere she cannot go.
This is only the beginning. Expect drones to become an increasing part of everyday life.
From dropping off your child’s forgotten schoolbooks to fetching milk and bread from the corner store – these autonomous devices will soon play a role in all our lives.
Drone operation in Australia requires the operator to adhere to strict regulations. Contact the Civil Aviation Safety Authority for more information: http://www.casa.gov.au