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A Brief History of the Drone

The drone is by far the most influential gadget of recent years. What’s more, its momentum shows no signs of stopping, with analysts predicting that the drone market could one day be worth billions.

But where did the drone’s journey to greatness start? We’ve looked back in time at this ultimate gadget’s history, to uncover its mysterious beginnings…

Humble beginnings…

To pinpoint exactly when the first drone-like invention came into existence, we must first understand the definition of a drone. It’s defined as being an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that can be remotely controlled.

So, based on this meaning, the first historical appearance of a drone-like creation was actually all the way back in 1782 in France! The Montgolfier brothers were the first to experiment with unmanned balloons – in preparation for manned flights, they sent unmanned hot-air balloons into the air! Granted, it was a far cry from the nimble fly-machines we know today – but it was a start.

The Montgolfier brothers unmanned balloon flight.

The first drones of war

Somewhat unsurprisingly, UAVs were originally designed for military uses rather than filling the shelves of your local toy store. When it comes to warfare, the fact that drones don’t have an onboard pilot – regardless of size – has an obvious tactical advantage.

The Austrian military first developed these devices for combat purposes. In 1849, the Austrians first attacked Venice with unmanned air balloons filled with explosives. Some of these worked, while the wind blew others back into Austrian territory – still, they showed potential.

The initial designs of the unmanned air balloons that would be filled with explosives.

Planes with no pilots later appeared just after World War I. However, using UAVs in combat was first dismissed as unreliable and expensive – these drones cost more than $1.3 billion – and so they only saw limited use during the post-World War II period.

The first quadcopters

Quadcopters were among the first vertical take-off and landing vehicles – engineers developed them to solve the difficulties that helicopter pilots had when making vertical flights. The very first was invented in 1920 and was named Oehmichen No2, after its inventor Étienne Oehmichen. This craft made 1000 successful flights and flew a record-breaking 360 metres.

Oehmichen No2

However, these early designs were far from the agile devices we know today. Quadcopters must be constantly stabilised, and without the advanced systems we have available today it meant there was an awful lot of work for the pilot to do.

Despite this, these early quadcopter designs were the first recognisable comparison to the drone quadcopters that are so widely recognised today.

How drones became the ultimate gadget

So, historically, drones’ roots are very much in the military – but how did it make its way into the mainstream market?

Although it would be impossible to determine a definitive reason for this crossover, the most likely reason is the harmonious relationship between the drone and the camera. You would be forgiven for thinking this combination was pretty much simultaneous with the emergence of the GoPro camera – however, it happened much earlier than you might think.

In fact, the first use of UAVs using cameras for surveillance was back in 1896 – these flying cameras could record pictures over a 90-second period. If UAVs were able to do this in 1896, it’s hardly surprising just how far drone photography has come.

Today, the possibilities for drones are seemingly endless – they can deliver packages straight to your door and provide hours of delight to drone hobbyists, all the while opening up a whole new door to revolutionising emergency services.

One thing’s for sure, the drone’s surprisingly extensive history is a story that is far from over, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store!

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