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Drones have been around for over 100 years! Despite this, the general public has not become aware of the technology because until now it was used for military and specialty commercial applications only.
On Aug. 22, 1849, after months of trial and error, Austria launched a pilot-less balloon bomb attack against Venice. The balloon did not cause much damage but it led the way for the use of drones.
Later, during World War II the first mass-produced drone in the USA was made, the OQ2. Over the period of production, approximately 15,000 of these drones were made, with Marilyn Monroe among the workers assembling these drones.
Later in 1987, Yamaha came out with a crop spraying drone, however, its use was generally limited to Japan.
In 2010 consumer drones became a reality, with the first models made by Parrot, a French electronics company. The popular DJI Phantom drone soon followed in 2013, at which point the consumer drone industry began to take off. In a few short years, we have went from the original DJI Phantom delivering around ~10 minutes of flight time, with a range of 800m, no camera, and 1000g weight to drones that cost a fraction of the price while delivering 30 minutes of flight time, 10km range, 4K cameras, and a large number of software features, such as follow me ability, and obstacle avoidance. To read more information about a detailed history of drones, click here.
Img 1: Parrot Bebop Drone
There are a number of reasons why drones took off so suddenly. The main reason was the advent of the smartphone. Smartphones became a big hit with the launch of the Apple iPhone in 2007. This launch created a supply chain and massive demand for small, efficient electronics such as GPS units, cameras, batteries, processors, and more. This supply chain and electronics availability allowed the GoPro Hero 2 to be created, with a launch in 2011. The mini action camera was an instant hit and paved the way for the DJI Phantom 1, which was a drone designed to carry the GoPro Hero 2 for capturing aerial photography and video.
For the drone industry, the main driver in its sudden rise was the availability of small, efficient electronics, a by-product of the rise of the smartphone. As a piece of technology that flies – low weight, and low power are by far the most important requirements to make a flying machine that can be useful to a consumer of business.
Since its launch, steady improvements in hardware have allowed the drones to become much smaller, and more efficient, while software improvements have greatly improved the functionality and ease of use of these drones, expanding their potential market.