Drones may be a relatively new phenomenon, but they actually have their roots in the late 19th century, back when Nikola Tesla first patented an “unmanned vehicle control,” which he predicted would be so deadly that “by reason of its certain and unlimited destructiveness…will bring about and maintain permanent peace among nations.” His patent, which was, more specifically, for “Method of and apparatus for controlling mechanism of moving vessels or vehicles,” was granted in November of 1898. It read as follows:
“In a broad sense, then, my invention differs from all of those systems which provide for the control of the mechanism carried by a moving object and governing its motion in that I require no intermediate wires, cables, or other form of electrical or mechanical connection with the object save the natural modia in space. I accomplish, nevertheless, similar results and in a much more practicable manner by producing waves, impulses, or radiations which are received through the earth, water, or atmosphere by suitable apparatus‘ on the moving body and cause the desired actions so long as the body remains within the active region or effective range of such on currents, waves, impulses, or radiations.” (United States Patent Office)
Tesla first introduced his vision via a small unmanned boat at an exhibition in Madison Square Garden. The unmanned vehicle appeared to change direction upon verbal command, a trick that wowed the audience. In actuality, however, he was using radio frequencies to switch the motors on and off. Still, his idea was so powerful that it warranted further exploration, and it wasn’t long before those radio waves were discovered and used to bring Tesla’s real vision to life. However, it would be decades before drones got to the point they are at today, as there was quite a bit of trial and error along the way.
Ewatt S8 Coaxial Multi-Rotor Aircraft
Ewatt D6 Long-Endurance Hexacopter Aircraft
Ewatt E2 Workhorse Fixed Wing Aircraft
Ewatt EWZ-E2 Catapult Case
Let’s Take a Step Back to Pre-Tesla Days
Before Tesla came up with the patent for his unmanned apparatus, the Austrians launched approximately 200 unmanned balloons equipped with explosives over the city of Venice. That was in 1849. Less than 20 years later, both Confederate and Union forces used similar balloons for scouting missions in the U.S. Civil War. In 1896, Samuel P. Langley wowed Washington D.C. as he flew unpiloted aircraft, powered by steam, along the Potomac River for a full 90-seconds, during which the world gained its first glimpse at the future, and the same year that Tesla released his patent, the U.S. military introduced the concept of aerial surveillance by attaching a U.S. military camera to a kite. These were used in the Spanish-American war.
Drones in World War I
Once it was discovered that unmanned vehicles could be used to drop bombs and keep an eye on the enemy, cogs really started moving to produce the type of technology necessary to create a truly unmanned flying vehicle, or the UAV as we know it today. In World War I, aerial surveillance was used to capture series of images that were used to form mosaic maps. Forces would use these images to track enemy movements. By the end of the war, a whopping 19,000 aerial images were taken and an outstanding 430,000 prints were collected after the war. These prints were just from the five-month Battle of the Somme in 1916.
During the war, the U.S. worked on developing a drone that could carry bombs to the target. While many prototypes were tested, it wasn’t until 1918, the end of the war, that a successful prototype made its debut. The Kettering “Bug” did exactly as the military envisioned, but by the time prototypes were perfected, the war was over.
Despite the Kettering Bug having the capabilities to carry a bomb to the exact target, they weren’t an ideal option for military forces. Drones were expensive, but they were feeble, oftentimes getting destroyed by other bigger, more complex machinery. For many forces, the cost of replacing broken drones was not worth it.
On the other hand, rockets were cheap, and they were destructive, but they were erratic. Their unpredictability made military units wary of using them. There was really no telling if a rocket would head towards the intended target or if it would do the exact opposite and come right back at the plane that had launched it. moreover, to ensure that a rocket did reach its intended destination, it wasn’t uncommon to launch multiple rockets at once, which ended up being a huge drain of resources anyways. It was a Massachusetts Dentist, Dr. Henry W. Walden, who eventually solved this problem by developing a prototype for a rocket that could be steered by a pilot who would be stationed in a mothership.
Walen was granted a patent, but because he never received an endorsement from the government, he failed to pay the patent fee. His idea wasn’t realized for years when the Germans developed radio-guided rockets to use in WWII.
Drones in WWII
The Fritz X was introduced by the Germans in September of 1943, when its military used it against Allied Ships in the Mediterranean. This Fritz X did demonstrate a fraction of the destructive potential that Tesla warned about when it sank Italian battleship Roma and severely damaged battleship Italia. However, it was more of a missile than the drone that previous leaders originally envisioned. The Fritz was operated by using a joystick and transmitter, and the cruciform tail is what ultimately ensured that the bomb was on the right trajectory.
Other country’s soon followed suit, and soon each military seemingly had faster, stronger and more accurate missiles to fire at each other. For a time, the missile replaced the whole concept of an assault drone, and talks of drones and research to build them quieted down.
Except for the Gemini project, in which NASA developed unmanned spacecraft to help astronauts complete their docking missions, there was little drone development going on between the 60s and 80s. The U.S. did develop a more easily controlled “cruise missile,” which were like miniature aircraft in and of themselves, but though they could maintain a lift and be guided in flight, they couldn’t sustain a hover as drones today can, and they didn’t return home; rather, they landed where they eventually fell. It wasn’t until the late 80s and early 90s that the field of technology eventually made the complex advancements necessary that make modern-day drones possible. Once the technology was there, the Air Force began working in earnest on equipping drones with missiles.
1995: The General Atomics MQ-1 Predator UAV
In 1995, the drone that would change the face of drones was envisioned. The Predator Program, as it was known as, was a mission by the U.S. government to create an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. The UAV is the closest any government has come to producing a product that is without a doubt an aircraft. The MQ-1 featured a bulbous nose which housed the satellite antennae, long, thin wings like those of a glider, a small glider mounted to the tail and an inverted v-tail, which gives it its foreboding look, as if it is saying that it doesn’t need rest. A small camera pod hangs from the front, effectively giving the military the hovering surveillance equipment it had been striving toward. Best of all, however, the plane-like object was equipped with Hellfire antitank missiles which could be fired at targeted objects.
The Predator continued to be called a UAV until Bob Woodward, a writer for the Washington Post, reintroduced the term “drone” to the vernacular in his article, CIA Told to Do ‘Whatever Necessary’ to Kill Bin Laden. Whether he used the dated term to refer to the old war technology that attempted to do what the Predator can do or because he was tired of all the acronyms surrounding the technology; what is clear is that the term stuck, and once again, the term “drone” was given a whole new meaning.
2010 – Present: The Modern-Day Drone
In 2010, French-based company Parrot unveiled the Parrot AR. Drone at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The quadcopter looked nothing like the drones of the past and was designed strictly for consumer use, leaving many to wonder how it even earned the title of drone in the first place. However, most people didn’t feel compelled to wonder for long, as the quadcopter helicopter could be manned by mobile device or tablet for smooth and easily controlled flight. The battery on this initial drone allowed for 12 minutes of flight time, during which users could interact with other drones in combat simulations or take part in solo games. The Parrot AR even came equipped with a 64-degree camera that had the capacity to record up to 60 fps.
Since the Parrot AR, other companies have followed suit, and now advanced consumer drones are being used for everything from drone racing to capturing live events, and from surveying dangerous areas to delivering small parcels. In fact, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos introduced drone delivery in 2013, and in 2016, the company began its first publicly available trial of Amazon Prime Air.
Of course, it took a lot of work in the legal department to allow drones into the air for commercial. What started as just one FAA exemption—which were for a film and TV production companies—the association has since granted 24 exemptions, one of which is for package delivery and aerial photography.
Consumer drone use also has its regulations, which can be found on the FAA’s website and which all consumers should read in depth before flying. For drone users that want to fly in a way that regulations do not allow, there are drone leagues and drone races, which are growing in popularity and which are featured on ESPN.
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DJI Matrice 200 Quadcopter
FPVLR 2.4ghz Antenna Upgrade Kit (Phantom 3/4 Inspire 1 Matrice)
Matrice 600 TB48S Intelligent Flight Battery
Drones Have Come a Long Way, and They’re Bound to Go Even Farther
From unmanned balloons equipped with bombs to the Fritz X, and from The Predator to the Parrot AR, drones have come a long way in the past century and a half, and drone enthusiasts everywhere cannot wait to see what advancements are to come. Of course, drone history is much more detailed than what this brief overview covered, and a more detailed history would include advancements by various agencies at all phases of drone existence. This post, however, sums up the greatest achievements in drone history, and most enthusiasts anticipate the next advancement to make headlines soon enough.
DARTdrones, the nation’s leader in drone training and program development announced their public safety grant program on February 20th, 2018, which is planned to award $100,000 in training and scholarships.
Co-Founder and CEO, Abby Speicher, was featured on a special episode of Shark Tank on February 24, 2017 highlighting millennial entrepreneurs. DARTdrones has been growing rapidly since the episode aired.
This special scholarship program was started in honor of the 1 year Shark Tank anniversary. The public safety grant funds signify a commitment by DARTdrones to save more lives with drones. Over 70 police and fire departments worldwide have seen the capabilities of drone technology, and DARTdrones wants to offer more departments the opportunity to implement drones. Read More
Everyone loves a best-of list, which is why if you go looking for the best drones of 2017 you’ll find an incredible array of lists. The best drones for beginners, best drones with cameras, best for beginners with cameras — the variations are practically endless. This article does the hard work for you and sums up the best UAV lists for 2017.
The method was quasi-scientific. First, a list was compiled of the most popular drone categories, such as best for beginners and best minis. Then four popular best-of lists were selected for each category. What does ‘popular’ mean in this case? It means turning up on the first page of a Google search (that’s why it’s QUASI-scientific). A drone had to show up on at least two lists to get covered here. Below you’ll find the results of this highly rigorous review!
PowerRay Wizard Sonar FishFinder with PowerVision Edition of Zeiss VR One Plus Goggles
Carbon 210 Race Drone
DJI Matrice 210 Quadcopter
DJI Matrice 200 Quadcopter
Best Drones for Beginners
The four lists for the best drones of 2017 for beginners agreed on what makes a good beginner drone. First and foremost, it needs to be easy to fly. Second, having a durable build is important, because as a beginner you’re likely to crash a lot. Some list-makers went further, looking at how fast drones could fly, how long they lasted and how far the range was.
The lists were also in surprisingly close agreement about which drones were the best at meeting those criteria. Here we take a closer look at the top three drones in the best drones of 2017 for beginners’ category.
One drone made the cut for every list, and that’s the Ready-to-fly UDI U818A. This drone showed up in some of the other categories too, indicating it’s one of the best drones for around $50. It’s a quadcopter with a range of 30 m (about 100 ft.) that can fly for 7-9 minutes before needing a recharge. It also comes with a fancy 360-degree flip maneuver built in to the controls and a camera so you can record your flights.
The Hubsan X4 H107D was a close second on the best drones of 2017 for beginners’ lists, showing up on three out of four, as well as in other categories. It’s an almost-ready-to-fly, palm-sized quadcopter. It comes with FPV, or first-person view, which means a camera on the drone broadcasts a live view to your transmitter screen. If you’re interested in getting into drone racing, FPV makes the Hubsan X4 a great way to get started. It runs around $40.
The Syma X5C is worth mentioning too. It only showed up on two lists, but it came up again in other categories. It’s another small-sized quadcopter that’s easy to fly and reasonably priced at $50. It comes with an HD camera and 2GB micro SD card for making videos and still images, and can perform the same snazzy 360 flip as the UDI U818A.
Best Cheap Drones
Next up is the best drones of 2017 that are cheap. What’s cheap? Three lists agreed under $200, and one said less than $180. It’s worth mentioning that the drones in this category all have similar flying times (5–7 minutes) and ranges (100 m maximum), but one list-maker pointed out if you were willing to spend just a bit more than $200, you could up your flying range to around 500 meters.
That said, you probably won’t be surprised to find out that the same top three that showed up for the best beginner drones showed up in the best cheap drone category. It goes without saying that if you’re going to crash and possibly destroy something, it’s better if it didn’t cost you your rent money.
Showing up on three out of four of the best drones of 2017 that are cheap is the Hubsan X4. The above description neglected to mention it has a range of 100 m (around 328 ft.), which is the best your going to do in this price range.
This popular model showed up again on three out of four lists in the cheap category. Some reviewers called the Syma X5C the best drone for the price.
UDI U818A and the Holy Stone F181
The UDI U818A only appeared on two of four lists for the best cheap drones, but the frequency with which it lands in other categories makes it worth mentioning here. Also showing up on two out of four lists is the Holy Stone F181. This is another ready-to-fly quadcopter with a similar range and flying time to others in this price range. It also has a handy return-home button and an HD camera for recording your flights.
The Best Nano/Micro/Mini Drones
What’s the difference between a nano, micro, and mini-drone? The best drones of 2017 micro lists didn’t bother to explain, but these are drones that are usually smaller than 250 mm (about 10 inches), although many are a lot smaller than that. What are they good for? Having an insane amount of fun, usually around your house on a rainy day. At the small end, they’re in danger of blowing away if you take them outside, and you shouldn’t expect much in the way of range and flying time. That said, they’re great to learn tricks and usually affordable, and some even come with cameras and FPV.
Making it onto three out of four of the best drones of 2017 lists, the Cheerson CX-10 measures 2.5 inches across. Most reviewers were delighted with its 8-or-more minute flying time and the extra propellers for when you break the originals. It has a range of around 40 m (around 130 ft.), which is pretty incredible when you consider how tiny it is. Most of all, it was the $15-$20 price range that had everyone excited.
At this point, you should be seeing a pattern. The Hubsan X4 shows up as one of the best drones of 2017 whether you’re ranking according to ease of flying, price or size. If you’re new to drones, this might be the best overall drone to start with.
The Best Racing Drones
If you’re already a serious drone racer, chances are good you built your own. But if you’re just getting into it, the best drones of 2017 for drone racing might interest you. All four of the lists focused on ready-to-fly or almost-ready-to-fly racing drones that were decent quality and had good FPV but weren’t crazy expensive. Here’s what they agreed on.
Eachine Wizard X220
The Eachine Wizard X220 showed up on two out of four lists, but it’s mentioned first here because it showed up on other best racing drone lists that didn’t make the cut for this review. The Eachine Wizard comes either ready-to-fly or almost-ready-to-fly. Make sure you know which one you’re getting because the ARF version requires you install your own receiver. It’s light, fast, maneuverable and good for racing or doing cool tricks. Until you’re ready to build your own, the Wizard is a good bet.
Arris X-speed 250
Appearing on two out of four of the best drones of 2017 for racing lists, the Arris X-Speed 250 is another light, fast racing drone. Its FPV camera is adjustable, so you have some control over what you see while you fly. Like the Eachine Wizard, it runs around $230.
The Best Camera Drones
Filming is one of the most popular applications for drones, both for professionals and those just looking to have fun. As with racing models, if you’re a professional camera drone operator, you probably have a customized setup you built yourself. That’s why the four best of lists focused on drones for beginning aerial cinematographers. That means these drones have moderate price tags and cameras already installed.
Showing up on four out of four lists of the best drones of 2017 with cameras, everyone agreed on the Yuneec Q500. At $1200, this isn’t for first-time fliers, but it is reasonably priced for what you get. The 4k camera gives really good image quality, and the controller lets you see what the camera sees, so there’s no mystery about how your shot looks.
DJI Phantom 4
A little harder to break down than the Yuneec Q500 but still appearing on three out of four lists and costing only around $900, the DJI Phantom 4 is a favorite. Described as polished, easy to fly and feature-packed, this drone is a great deal for the price.
DJI Mavic Air - Ultraportable 4K Quadcopter - Fly More Combo - Arctic White
DJI Mavic Air - Ultraportable 4K Quadcopter - Arctic White
Parrot Bebop 2
At the lower end, the Parrot Bebop 2 is a good mid-range camera drone. It comes in under $600, gives you 20 minutes of flying time and has a range around 300 m (almost 100 ft.). That said, you don’t get a slick 4k camera with this one, so it’s better for people just getting into filming rather than someone looking to use it for professional reasons.
And… UDI U818A?
It’s worth mentioning that the good old UDI U818A showed up on one list as the best camera drone under $200!
There you have it, the best of the best drones of 2017. While experienced drone pilots will have their own favorites, these are the drones that came up again and again on the best of lists for this year. Are they really the best? You’ll have to fly them yourself to know for sure.
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If you’re new to drones, you might be a little confused about what counts as a drone. The broadest definition includes anything that flies without an onboard pilot and is controlled, either directly or indirectly, by a human. This can mean anything from unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, used by the military to spy or deploy weapons, to radio-controlled aircraft flown by hobbyists for fun. That’s a lot of types of drones!
Writers on the topic have categorized drones by range, size, capabilities and method of lift. Method of lift is a good place to start because it has the biggest impact on what a drone can do. And since you’re probably interested in a type of drone you can use for recreational or professional purposes, this article won’t spend time on big military drones. Instead it will focus on drone types available to the public and all the cool things you can do with them.
Know Your Methods of Lift
There’s more than one way to get airborne, and different types of drones make use of most of them. If you have a mental image of a drone, it might be of a quadcopter, or quadrotor. These are the most popular, and there are good reasons for that. But drones come in many shapes and sizes, and which one is the best depends on what you want to do with it. Here’s a breakdown of the different drone types based on their method of lift.
1. Multirotor Drones
These drones use multiple propellers to fly. They can have as few as a three or as many as eight. You might find one with more, like NASA’s Greased Lightening GL-10, a 10-rotor drone that hovers like a helicopter but flies like a plane, but they aren’t common. While your typical battery-powered multirotor can’t fly as far or as fast as other types of drones, multirotors have the advantage of being very stable and easy to fly. They’re also easier to care for and less expensive than other types.
One of the limitations of multirotor drones for professional applications is that they’re battery-powered and propellers require a lot of power. If you try to fit it with a bigger battery, it ends up using the extra power to carry that heavy battery. The end result is most can’t fly for more than 30 minutes or carry more than 5 pounds. But brand new hybrid gas-to-electric multirotor drones are changing that. These types of drones can fly around 100 miles carrying 20 pounds, making them more practical for delivering goods.
2. Helicopter Drones
Also called single-rotor drones, these look and fly just like manned helicopters. They’re faster and more efficient than drones with multiple rotors, which means they can stay in the air for longer stretches of time. So why aren’t they more popular? Probably because they’re harder to fly, and that means easier to break. They tend to require a little more maintenance and cost more, too.
3. Fixed Wing Drones
Before everyone started talking about drones, there were radio-controlled airplanes. Also known as fixed-wing drones, these remotely operated planes can’t hover like rotor drones and, just like real airplanes, need a lot of space to take off and land. On the plus side, they can fly a lot faster and farther and for longer periods of time.
Some estimates suggest these types of drones have 10 times the endurance of multirotor drones. That’s one reason they’re still the most popular for surveying and other scientific applications. There’s also a community of hobbyists who fly them, although it requires more commitment than multirotor drones. Fixed-wing drones tend to be expensive, and they require a lot more skill to fly.
Drones that combine the vertical lift-off and landing of rotor drones with fixed-wing flight aren’t very common — yet. Besides NASA’s GL-10, the most famous one is Amazon’s delivery drone. You’re not as likely to run across one of these at your local hobby shop, but they’re around and will probably gain in popularity. Innovations in drone design are at a fever pitch right now, so don’t be surprised if you see newer, faster and more efficient types of drones coming out all the time.
Know Your Goals
The best drone depends entirely on what you want to accomplish and how much you can afford to spend. Method of lift is just one aspect of a drone. There’s also its size, how you fly it and what type of equipment it can carry. Here are some of the things you can do with a drone and the type of drone you should do it with.
1. Learn To Fly a Drone
If you’re interested in learning to fly drones, don’t go out and buy a $1000 drone kit, unless you can afford to crash $1000 into a cliff just to watch it burn. There are some terrific ready-to-fly, or RTF, drones on the market for around $100 or less. These types of drones can be flown right out of the box, no assembly required except maybe snapping the propellers into place. There are even a couple drones in this price range that come with cameras already installed.
Not only are they easier than more sophisticated drones that you have to assemble yourself, you won’t feel so bad about breaking them when you accidentally fly one into a tree. Once you’ve learned the basics of flying and maybe a few tricks, you can buy something bigger, more expensive and with cool capabilities.
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DJI Spark Fly More Bundle - Sky Blue
DJI Spark Fly More Bundle - Sunrise Yellow
DJI Spark Fly More Bundle - Alpine White
2. Learn Tricks, Goof Off and Drive Your Pets Crazy
For as little as $15 you can own a quadcopter that you can park on the palm of your hand. Some of them are so small you can park two or three on your hand! Nano and microdrones are smaller than 250 mm (about 10 inches), cheap and incredibly fun. The tiniest ones can only be flown in the house, and none of them can fly for very long before being recharged, but who cares? Buy a few of these types of drones and you can have hours of fun tormenting your cat and learning how to do barrel rolls without feeling too bad if you crash and burn.
3. Race or Just Know How It Feels To Be a Bird
Even if you hadn’t heard of it, you had to guess drone racing was a thing, because of course, it is. But it’s even cooler than that, because racing drones use FPV, First-Person View. That means a tiny camera on the drone broadcasts a live view to a screen or pair of goggles worn by the pilot. You see what the drone sees. If you want a preview of just how insanely awesome that is, go watch some videos on YouTube.
These types of drones are built to be fast and maneuverable, so the cameras they carry usually aren’t good enough to make quality videos. They are, however, good enough to let you see what the world looks like from above and make you feel like a bird, or in some cases, a bee. You can spend a lot on racing drones, and the people who take it seriously end up building their own, which can run into real money. But for a couple hundred dollars, you can race a tiny drone around your house and see what the top of your head looks like.
WALKERA F210 Racing Quad
Rodeo 110 Racing Drone RTF, W/ HD Camera, Radio and Battery
Carbon 210 Race Drone
Carbon 210 Race Drone Propellers
4. Make a Movie
Remember that scene in Skyfall when James Bond is chasing a guy over the rooftops on a motorbike? Or how about pretty much any battle scene in Game of Thrones? Those were all shot by mounting a camera on a drone. In fact, drones are so good for filming that there’s an entire film festival devoted to drone footage: the New York City Drone Film Festival.
The types of drones used for serious filming need to be able to carry a heavy camera and stay in the air for a while, which can run into the thousands of dollars. However, even amateurs can have some fun and create beautiful footage for as little as $100. If you’re willing to spend a few hundred more, you can get image quality good enough that you’d have hard time telling the difference from more expensive setups.
5. Make Maps, Deliver Things and Other Serious Stuff
Most of the applications mentioned above fall partly or mostly into the recreational category, but drones are used for a whole host of professional applications as well. You can get drones with GPS capabilities for mapping, search and rescue, and delivery, as well as a host of other tasks that are just beginning to be explored. They’re even being used to carry critical medical supplies to remote locations that would be difficult to reach otherwise.
The term drone encompasses a vast array of flying robots with applications limited only by the imaginations of their users. Although they may seem like they’re from the future, many of the types of drones mentioned above are available to anyone who wants to buy them. Whether you’re looking to have fun, need aerial surveillance for your field work or want a way to spray your crops, there’s a drone type that can get the job done.
Have you ever considered trying to make some money while you’re having fun flying drones? Pilots of these high-tech devices get to take to the skies as early as their sixteenth birthday, but people of all ages are fascinated by prospect of unmanned flight. These days, they’re doing their flying in some amazing, inspiring and surprising ways.
Since the tech is so new for civilians, the full capacity of these versatile machines is mostly unfamiliar territory. That means there’s a lot of exploration going on, but it also means that it’s a little difficult to get a bird’s-eye view of the drone situation.
Drones’ pilots are often best served by starting with the basics: What are drones, who is allowed to fly them and how do they work? Whether you’re thinking of taking the FAA test to become a drone pilot, you’re curious about the capacity of the devices or you just want to know if it’s legal for you to operate one, here’s some information that can help you out.
What’s a Drone?
It seems like a simple question: “What is a drone?” However, the issue might not be as clear as it appears at first. Pilots of these vehicles aren’t really what you would traditionally consider a pilot at all. They’re more like operators, guiding the drone from a safe distance. However, the opportunities and excitement of flight are all still there. There’s a dizzying variety of brands, types and grades of these devices available. For technical specs and specific data, it’s best to consult a retailer, manufacturer or training center directly, or visit one of those businesses’ websites. For general info, read on.
The Drone, Generally Speaking
In the loosest sense of the term, you might classify almost any unmanned craft by the term, from a trench-exploring submarine to NASA’s Mars rovers. But most drones’ pilots aren’t exploring the depths of the ocean or flying spacecraft, so it’s probably more useful to restrict the definition to the increasingly familiar helicopter-style remote-controlled devices. The Federal Aviation Administration calls them unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS for short.
Now that science has caught up with designers’ imaginations with new materials, energy sources and aeronautics engineering, nearly anyone can own drones. Pilots come from all walks of life, from kids to college professors, and they’re all doing some interesting things. Here are some of the ways people are using drones for fun, profit and community service.
Some of the most striking examples of great drone use in the past few years came from a pretty simple concept: attaching a camera to a flying object. With quite a bit more accessibility, stability, range and grandeur than possible with older methods, such as hiring helicopters or tossing a cellphone in the air while recording, drones have quickly become a favorite of professional and amateur filmmakers alike.
Have you ever wondered what it’s like on the inside of a volcano? While drones’ pilots can’t quite access the magma chamber yet, there has been some impressive footage recorded of craters, plumes of spewing ash and super-heated lava floes. Too hot for you? Drones have also captured images of glacial caverns and vast icy expanses in Antarctica. Looking for something a little closer to home (assuming you don’t live in Pompeii)? Even getting an aerial view of a local sports match wouldn’t be beneath these devices, figuratively speaking.
Drones’ pilots aren’t all artists, photographers or explorers. Some are focused on more local issues. In fact, community and government organizations generate many of the opportunities that come from learning how to operate drones. Politicians, political parties and campaigns often hire pilots for drones to create stunning and motivational overhead images of rallies and speeches.
Police and fire departments use drones to great effect as well. Law-enforcement organizations with limited staff can monitor multiple troublesome areas at once through drone images. Fire control and safety centers can use the technology for routine building inspections, investigations of emergency calls and almost nearly instant assessment of fires for appropriate response sizes. Any or all of these types of government bodies might hire freelancers or regular staff to operate drones. Pilots for drones might also find opportunities in other community service capacities.
More Infrastructure Opportunities
With increased coastal populations, the need for oversight, preparedness and high-tech responses to natural disasters has become more and more apparent. Hurricanes and other tropical storms create havoc on the ground when massive flooding ensues. The old way of boating around just doesn’t work in the context of contemporary urban population density.
Luckily, we have something to fill in the widening gap between the efficiency of response techniques and the number of people who need help. That ‘something’ is drones. Pilots of unmanned aircraft truly make a difference in dire situations like major floods or disasters. These FAA-approved technicians work with first responders to methodically seek out people in need and inform response teams of rescue locations.
People sometimes rent out drones to explore the skies, but this requires professional instruction. Driving a drone without learning the basics first is a recipe for disaster. That’s why many rental outlets also double as flying schools. People go to these licensed businesses to purchase or rent a piece of equipment, but also to learn more about the proper use and capabilities of drones in general. Whether it’s to get an even higher view while mountain climbing, scout fishing opportunities or explore an urban park from the air, people want to get the most out of their free time. To do this, they need to know how to have fun safely with their tech.
Learning To Fly
With all these cool and helpful applications of drones, pilots should have been flying them since their invention. However, that’s not the case. The reason why is pretty simple: FAA guidelines. The FAA only issued rules for civilian drone use in 2016, and only under the following conditions:
- The pilot is at least 16 years old.
- A written test about the rules and basic drone operation is passed.
- The drone in question weighs less than 55 pounds.
- Flight speeds can’t exceed 100 miles per hour.
- The drone has to be registered.
- The drone must stay in visual range at all times.
- Only daytime operation is permitted.
- Pilots are expected to report drone-related injuries (similar to driving a car).
Speaking of that last point, most of the rules and regulations discussed in drones’ pilots’ tests are pretty familiar to anyone who’s ever obtained a driver’s license or taken a driver’s ed class. You even have to take the exam at an approved testing center, similar to visiting the DMV. It’s easy to find an updated list of these locations if you check out the FAA website. There are also some good resources offered through schools, retailers and training centers if you feel like something a little more straightforward than your typical government website. In fact, you might even get two tasks done at once: Some training centers double as approved testing sites.
A Gateway to the Sky
It’s overgeneralizing a little to say that a drone’s pilot’s license is like a car’s driver’s license. Pilots for drones need more specific knowledge, but that’s a good thing in a way. Establishing the context necessary to understand the terms in the drone flight requirements (and therefore pass your test) puts you one step closer to aviation expertise. That’s valuable if you have ambitions beyond unmanned flight. If you’re a young flier, having experience with the rules and terminology of the FAA puts you ahead of the competition when it comes time to apply yourself to your long-term goals, such as military service, piloting aircraft or even space travel.
Drones by the Numbers
If you’re wondering whether you can make money from operating drones, pilots all over the country have already answered that question for you. While competition for many current positions is tight, there are definite benefits to securing a place in what looks to be a booming industry. Getting a position flying a drone or establishing your own organization could get you in on the ground floor of something truly exciting.
To give you an idea of the potential of this business, here are some figures you can really sink your teeth into. PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the largest professional firms in the world, projects huge growth in the unmanned aviation industry. They estimate the value of the emerging global market for drones at $127 billion — that’s a lot of opportunities for those drones’ pilots. They split it up even further into some interesting and surprising industry sectors:
- Mining: $4.4 billion
- Entertainment: $8.8 billion
- Insurance: $6.8 billion
- Agriculture: $32.4 billion
- Transport: $13 billion
- Infrastructure: $45.2 billion
Most people are talking about transportation and delivery when it comes to drones. However, the numbers from this international analysis firm seem to suggest that there’s a lot more opportunity in farming.
With new technology being developed every day, drones are at the cutting edge of many industries. Drone pilots can find employment in anything from taking high-altitude photographs to helping out during natural disasters, and likely many more places as the field continue to advance.
You may have seen the drones flying around Lady Gaga during her 2017 Super Bowl halftime performance, or you may have heard about Amazon using them to deliver packages on the same day that they are ordered.
However, you may not fully understand what they are or how they might affect your future. In essence, a drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle. Despite popular belief, a UAV does not have to be small, like a remote plane; rather, it can be any size. Think of blimps and robot planes, each of which can be controlled via remote or autonomously.
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Though unmanned aerial vehicles are just recently gaining attention, UAVs are nothing new — at least, not the concept of them. If you have ever been in a hobby shop, visited a park on a beautiful sunny day or had an uncle who was into building model planes or helicopters, then you’ve likely seen an unmanned aircraft in action. The reason they’re gaining so much attention now, however, is because of the many ways in which they are changing the world.
It’s hard to escape all the conversation surrounding UAVs today. Whether you get your news from CNN or Facebook, you’ve likely heard about UAVs being used for everything from weapons of war to same-day delivery. If you’ve delved a little deeper, you might even be worried about how this technology could violate your privacy or be interested in how it can be used to prevent acts of terrorism from occurring at major events.
While none of that information is necessarily wrong, it is only the beginning of the very big and very real impact this technology is having on our world. Below are just five ways that UAV technology is being used to change life as we know it:
1. Philanthropic Efforts
According to the United Nations, over 5 billion people in the world lack the essential medicines they need to live long, healthy and prosperous lives. This is in large part due to many people of the world continuing to live in rural and hard-to-reach places.
One California drone maker, Zipline, aims to change that. Zipline recently teamed up with the Rwandan government to deliver medicine to parts of the country that are difficult to reach by land or large aircraft. Now based in central Rwanda, the company flies its aircrafts within a 50-mile radius to help those in need. In addition to bringing much-needed medicines to people of the world who would otherwise have no access to it, Zipline has shown the industry that drones can be used for more than recording ball games, dropping bombs or highlighting pop-stars — they can be used for good and to change the fate of people less fortunate. Organizations such as Doctors Without Borders and UNICEF have teamed up with governments of other impoverished nations such as Malawi and Madagascar to provide the same type of services for citizens in need.
As one of the greatest and most recent natural disasters in the nation’s history, Hurricane Harvey is a relevant example of how the technology can be used for insurance purposes. The hurricane is expected to cost insurance agencies and the city of Houston billions of dollars in damages. To gain a thorough assessment of the damage, insurers plan to deploy UAVs. Both Allstate and Farmer’s Insurance have prepared their aerial vehicles to do the incredible — assess billions of dollars’ worth of damage without actually setting foot in the disaster zone. Though a huge undertaking, drone technology is so advanced that the unmanned aircraft are expected to be able to complete the task without fail and in a much safer and more efficient manner than any other human intel could.
Harvey is not the first time UAVs have been used for insurance inspections. Though most insurance agencies are still experimenting with the technology, the bigger players like Allstate and Farmer’s have put their vehicles to the test before, such as when severe storms ravaged the roofs of homes in New York this past April. According to USA Today, these larger insurance agencies have previously used the technology to investigate claims associated with weather damage. Not only is it more efficient, but it also negates the use of the ladders and prevents injury to agency employees.
3. Extreme Weather Forecasting
It is estimated that approximately 1,000 tornados occur in the U.S. each year. While many of these tornados go undetected, the larger F3s, F4s, and F5s wreak havoc that is hard to ignore and that costs local and federal governments billions of dollars each year. Hurricanes are less common, but as Hurricane Harvey has recently proved, they can be just as deadly and just as costly as several tornados combined. Though we can roughly estimate how many tornados and hurricanes to expect in any given year based on previous weather patterns, it is difficult to forecast, and therefore plan for, these natural disasters. Drones are expected to help with that.
UAV makers have the common goal of making their technology meteorologist friendly. While the technology is not yet fully there, developers hope to soon release fixed-wing crafts that can be sent into the atmosphere to measure air pressure, temperature, humidity and wind direction. They hope that by catching changes in these conditions as they occur, they can accurately gauge how a storm might move and what type of damage it can be expected to cause. This will allow cities and states to better prepare for storms and to evacuate in a timelier manner.
4. Photos and Videos
From football games to marathons, from growing storms to renowned landmarks, there are birds-eye perspectives of countless events and places that we, as humans, could never be privy to, at least not without setting foot in a plane or helicopter. But with drones, that is all about to change. UAV technology is being used to capture images from above, creating one-of-a-kind panoramas that are changing the way photographers and videographers alike approach their art. Movies such as The Wolf on Wall Street, The Expendables 3 and Captain America: Civil War used aerial footage to enhance the films’ effects. CNN used the technology to report on the earthquakes in Ecuador and Italy, and real estate agents use aerial photography to really sell a home to prospective buyers.
That is not all, though. Drone technology today can be programmed to follow their “owners.” Now, surfers, kayakers, paddle boarders and other extreme sports enthusiasts everywhere are using UAVs to capture epic moments on film that will impress their followers and sponsors alike.
5. Wildlife Conservation Efforts
Until recently, it was difficult for conservationists to gauge what kind of impact humans have on hard-to-reach places such as the middle of the ocean or a rainforest. Moreover, it was hard to see just how much of Earth’s wildlife has been negatively (or positively) impacted by our presence on this planet. Drones, however, are changing that.
In recent years, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts has used UAV technology to track the migration patterns and monitor the health of humpback whales off the coast of Cape Cod. The U.S. Geological Survey employed similar technology to observe sandhill cranes in Colorado. And most notably, UAVs have been deployed in Africa, where they are being used to track poachers and put an end to the illegal activity of hunting endangered wildlife such as rhinos and elephants. Sadly, the tusks and horns of these majestic creatures go for thousands of dollars on the black market, and previous conservation efforts have been virtually useless. However, with UAVs, local law enforcement agencies can be ready to catch criminals in the act before any harm is done.
Poachers are extremely dangerous, which is why the “sport” has prevailed for so long. Park rangers were hesitant to head out into the brush at night for fear of being attacked and possibly even killed by these dangerous bandits. With drone technology, they no longer have to worry about this though, as the technology acts as their eyes and ears. The vehicles are programmed to patrol a certain area, collect data and predict poacher movement. This is done by watching the animals’ movements, tracking water sources and observing weather patterns, each of which can help Rangers and the local governments predict where and when the poachers are going to be before the criminals even make a move.
UAV Technology Is the Way of the Future
Although there are some understandable concerns about how UAVs might be deployed, it’s important to note all the good that can come from drone use. UAV technology, like any other technological advancement, has the potential to be destructive. However, with clear guidelines set forth by the federal government and set safety regulations, drones have the very real potential of changing the future for the better. From aiding in humanitarian efforts to assisting in insurance claims, predicting major storms, advancing the visual arts and helping with wildlife conservation efforts, it’s safe to say that this technology is on the path of doing far more good than harm.