When we hear the word “drone” we might think of weaponized military drones used in wars.
Although the first drones were developed for the military, they drones are used in many ways these days, including aerial photography, wildlife surveillance, industrial inspections and security.
But who invented the Drone? In this article, we are going to look at the history of drone development, who invented the first drone, and how it evolved over the years to reach this day.
But all this didn’t happen overnight. The development took place slowly and gradually over decades of research.
Who Invented the Drone?
The first version of the modern drone was invented by Abraham Karem in his garage. The drone – code named Albatross – led to the development of the modern Predator drone used by the US Air Force today.
Abraham Karem was born in Baghdad to a Jewish couple. In 1951, his family moved to Israel where he was raised and went to school.
He was a natural enthusiast for aeronautics from a young age. Inspired by his teacher who served as a pilot during WW2, he started building models of aircraft at the age of 14.
He was an aeronautical engineer at The Technion. During the Yom Kippur War, he built his first drone for the Israeli Air Force. The drone was used to counter Russian air defence installed in Egypt and Syria.
He immigrated to America in 1977 and founded his company Leading Systems Inc. in his garage.
At that time, the Pentagon has almost given up on unmanned aircraft due to reliability issues and the high manpower needed to fly them safely. It took 30 crew members to fly a single UAV.
Karem believed that the problem cannot be solved by just applying modern technology. He believed that a better design and integrated subsystems were the solutions.
“I wanted to prove that performance is largely a result of inspired design and highly optimised and integrated subsystems, not the application of the most advanced technology,”Karem (The Economist – Dec 1st, 2012)
He started making his first drone, Albatross which stayed in the air for more than 56 hours and caught the DARPA’s eyes. He received funding to scale his research.
Next, he made a more sophisticated version of the Albatross and nicknamed it “Amber”. This drone became the Predator drone that earned him the nickname “DroneDaddy”.
The Amber was operated by a crew of just 3 and could loiter in the air for days.
According to the Economist magazine, Karem was the man who “established the autonomous aircraft that changed the way contemporary warfare is waged and continues pioneering additional aerial innovations.”
But in 1987, the Amber program was cancelled due to political infighting, and the program was sent to cold storage.
Leading Systems went bankrupt and was purchased by the U.S.S. General Atomics – a defence contractor that used Karem’s group to create ultra-long endurance UAVs. Predator was produced based on Amber, the previous version.
What is Karem doing today?
Karem kept doing his research in the field of aeronautics and his next venture was Frontier Systems he worked on developing a variable speed rotor helicopter codenamed A160.
His work was promising so again DARPA funded his research. Ultimately, he sold the company to Boeing in 2004 and moved on to his next venture. Boeing could not take further his work and failed the variable rotor concept.
He founded Karem Aircraft in 2004 to integrate the variable rotor design into the fixed-wing design to create a VTOL (vertical take-off land) vehicle.
9 milestones in the history of drones
An uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) is an aircraft that does not have a crew or passengers. These can be either remotely piloted or automated drones.
UAVs are capable of flying for long periods of time at a limited height and speed, and can also play an important role in many areas of aviation.
During the First World War, the first pilotless vehicles were developed in Britain and the U.S.A. The Aerial Goal of Britain, a small radio-controlled aircraft, was first tested in March 1917.
While the Kettering Bug, an American aerial infantry, flew its first flight in October 1918. Both showed promise in in-flight evaluations but were not used operationally during World War II.
The development and testing of uncrewed aircraft continued throughout the interwar period. The British made many radio-controlled aircraft in 1935 to be used as training goals.
The title of the DH.82B Queen Bee, which is the title of the versions that were made, suggests that the phrase drone was first used. Radio-controlled drones were made in the U.S.A. for coaching and target practice.
Reconnaissance UAVs first saw widespread deployment during the Vietnam War. The drones were also used for many different functions such as acting as decoys during battle, dropping leaflets for psychological operations, and initiating missiles against rigid targets.
Other countries, besides the U.S.A. and Britain, began to explore unmanned aerial engineering after the Vietnam War.
The new versions were more complicated and had better endurance. They also had the ability to maintain an increased altitude.
Models have been developed over the years that use technology such as solar capacity to make other flights more efficient.
Drones can now serve many purposes. They can be used to track climate change, carry out the research after natural disasters and deliver products. Their most prominent and controversial use comes from the army for surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeted strikes.
The United States has significantly increased its drone use since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. They are used primarily for surveillance in areas and terrains where soldiers cannot move safely.
They can also be used as weapons, and have been credited with the death of suspected militants.
They are being used in conflicts now and in some countries, raising concerns about their integrity, especially when civilians die, either because of incorrect information or because they are close to a target.
1. First Quadcopter
1907: The inventor brothers Jacques & Louis Breguet created the world’s first quadcopter. They worked with Professor Charles Richet, a contentious Nobel Prize winner. It was fascinating but had limitations.
It was unsteerable and required four men to secure it. On its first flight, it lifted two feet off of the ground. It did invent the quadcopter form variable that we now have. Every trip must start somewhere, right?
2. The first military drones
1917 The Ruston Proctor Aerial goal was the first pilotless winged aircraft to be launched just 16 years after the Wright Brothers pioneering Kitty Hawk flight.
It was a radio-controlled, pilotless aircraft that was dependent on R.C.C technology developed by Nikola Tesla.
Aerial Goal’s goal was to have the AT behave like a flying bomb that could be controlled by enemies. Despite excellent presentations, the AT was never used in combat.
It opened the doors to similar projects like the Kettering Bug and helped pave the way for military drones.
Made by the German Army during World War II, the FX-1400 was nicknamed “Fritz X”, as it was the first remotely-controlled weapon to enter operational use.
This 2,300-pound bomb has been used to sink ships during the war. It was not only the first military drone to have been properly set up, but also the precursor of anti-ship missiles.
3. Boom in RC planes
1960s Transistor technology breakthroughs meant that clients could now purchase miniaturized radio-controlled parts at a reasonable price.
The U.S. saw a boom in R.C.C planes. These R.C.C planes were largely made from kits and offered everything from larger, outdoor versions to indoor-flyable models.
This was the first example of the market and community that emerged for consumer drones half a century later.
4. The first drone-armed strike
2001 After 9/11, the C.I.A. As part of the war against the Taliban, C.I.A. began flying drones armed over Afghanistan.
Initial C.I.A. The first drone-based killing operation was performed in February 2002. An unmanned Predator drone was used to kill a suspect believed to be Osama Bin Laden.
It was Daraz Khan, an innocent man who had been outside scrap metal collecting. These incidents raised concerns about drones being used in war. This is still a raging issue.
5. FAA creates commercial drone permits
2006. The FAA issued the first commercial drone licenses. These permits removed some restrictions on consumer drones being flown for recreational purposes.
This opened up new opportunities for professionals and companies that wanted to use drones in small business ventures. At first, there were not many industrial drone permits required. However, this number soon increases.
6. The Parrot AR Drone is here
2010. The Parrot AR Drone was introduced by the French company Parrot. It is the first drone that can be controlled completely via Wi-Fi and a smartphone.
The drone achieved almost instant success both commercially as well as critically. It was awarded the C.E.S. in 2010.
Half a million components were also sold, earning the Innovations Award for Digital Gaming Hardware. AR Drone 2.0 was even better than the original formula, which used a simpler piloting system.
This made it easier for beginners to use and make it more accessible.
7. Amazon Prime Air
2013 Amazon released a notion video in December 2013 that showcased Jeff Bezos’ vision for a drone-based shipping platform. Although the retail giant wasn’t the first to explore drone delivery, it was the first.
Bezos spoke out about the possibility of using the technology to deliver half-hour delivery in a 60 Minutes interview. This seems like science fiction. He explained that it is not.
Bezos stated that the technology was approximately 50 years away. Amazon later clarified that unmanned deliveries would require some changes to national rules.
8. The Lily drone disaster
2015. In 2015, the consumer drone market is growing rapidly. Not everything was perfect. The Lily Camera drone disaster was perhaps the most disappointing and still leaves a bitter taste in many people’s mouths.
After racking up $34million in pre-orders for this camera, the original company behind it filed for bankruptcy and closed down after a series of delays.
This was a hard lesson that many drone enthusiasts had to learn.
9. Arrival of king DJI
2013: a small Chinese startup DJI launched its first consumer drone – the famous DJI Phantom – which ushered in the era of consumer drone photography.
Later on, the DJI Phantom 4 introduced machine learning and smart computer vision technologies. It was able to avoid obstacles, and actively monitor (and take photos) people, animals, and items, instead of being limited to following a G.P.S. The signal.
This drone was an important landmark in drone photography and drones for consumers.
DJI followed this with a number of successful launches which made the Chinese manufacturer the king of consumer drones.
Now drones are a billion dollar market and the market size is increasing every passing year.