Drones: Where Did They Come From?

The Amber aircraft on a trial flight.

Drones. Your neighbor has one. They dominate stores. They are all over the news. But where did they come from?

The first step is finding the beginning of it all. The first modern drone was funded by a government branch called DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). They paid people in the tech industry to construct a long lasting drone capable of taking photos and videos, launching cruise missiles, and performing covert data-gathering missions. This resulted in Amber. A 4.6 meter (15 foot) long, 335 kilogram(740 pound) fixed wing UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) with a wingspan of 8.54 meters(28 feet). As I believe that you have noticed, drone technology has gotten a lot smaller and more versatile in the 34 years since the creation of Amber.

Now, you might be thinking, “how does this apply to the tiny thing my brother got for his birthday?” Well, this led the military and other tech companies to start to investigate the power of drones and one day somebody stumbled across a design for a helicopter with four propellers and four motors instead of one. They discovered that this design was a lot more maneuverable and also had more power. They began developing this idea and many companies realized that this could be a profitable field. The tech companies began to create large drones for movies and TV shows giving the film industry a whole new perspective.

Even later more companies decided that this was a very easily marketable idea and thought that with developing technology (and lower prices) they could create a small one to sell in stores. As soon as the ideas were discovered the race was on.

These companies all had the goal of creating a cheap and effective camera drone. Among companies that already existed, new ones popped up. For example, DJI, Parrot, 3D robotics (or 3DR), and Yuneec were all founded on the growing drone popularity. DJI created the phantom drone. Although it wasn’t very good, it marked the start of high-quality consumer camera drones. The price of drones dropped from hundreds of thousands of dollars to hundreds due to better technology and new ideas. Drones began to become more common in certain societies.

As drones became more common more laws were created to restrict them.The lawmaking task was handed over to the FAA(or the Federal Aviation Administration).  At first lawmakers didn’t know how to restrict the growing hobby and made a few mistakes in reasonable lawmaking. They began to make you pay a fee for the ability to use a drone and this angered pilots of drones. Eventually the law was revoked to due outright rage from pilots and many failures to comply with the law anyway.

Gradually, as technology grew better, more companies were able to make tiny yet powerful drones. They also realized that a drone didn’t need to have a camera to be good. They started to focus on making stunt drones that didn’t have cameras. This is probably what type of drone your neighbor has. That brought us to today’s technology, and will allow us to keep advancing.


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