The Rise of the Drones: How the Flying Machines Are Taking Off

Published On February 11, 2015 | Electronics

Drones have been in the headlines lately, leaving many of us wondering “what the heck are these things?” There are actually different types of drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or remotely piloted aircrafts (RPAs), ranging from military use to commercial and recreational use. Currently, the FAA has imposed numerous restrictions on UAV use, however, as these restrictions loosen and drones become more affordable, there’s no doubt their popularity will keep soaring.

Here’s the basics you need to know about drones and how they’re taking off.

The History of Drones

Drones were initially created for military use. Though the idea of using unmanned aerial vehicles has been around since the 1930s (the British Royal Navy’s developed a UAV called the Queen Bee for target practice), it wasn’t until the 1990’s that the American military routinely began using UAVs for surveillance, intelligence and weapons launching. The MQ-1 Predator drone began its life as an intelligence-gathering surveillance tool but was soon redesigned to launch missiles. After the success of the MQ-1 Predator, the larger, MQ-9 Reaper was developed. Armed drones are still used today and not just by the United States. China, Iran, Russia, France, and Germany are just a few of the countries known to possess armed drones.

While the military cornered the market on early drone use, not all drones are out to kill. In fact, there are many helpful ways drones are being used today. Conservationists and wildlife researchers have been able to use drones to safely collect data and reach areas traditionally difficult to get to. Drones are even being used to protect wildlife, like Africa’s rhinos, from poachers.

Though protecting animals is a noble use of UAV technology, we’re more likely to see drone use grow in the film industry. Camera drones allow filmmakers to get unbelievable aerial shots, which were either not possible before or required filming from an actual helicopter. Some people are even having their weddings filmed with drones mounted with cameras, capturing a stunning overview of this major life event.

FAA Regulations on Drones

Before you go drone shopping, you should know that there are tons of FAA regulations bogging down this burgeoning technology. In order to fly a UAV for commercial use, you must apply for approval from the FAA. In some cases, a pilot certificate is required to fly a UAV. The FAA also prohibits the flying of UAVs over sporting stadiums during events or in air shows.

And never fly a drone in Washington D.C. as resident Shawn Usman recently learned. Usman was flying a drone for recreational use in his D. C. apartment and decided to fly it out of his window, at which point he lost control and the drone ended up landing the last place you want a rogue drone to land, the White House lawn. Usman could face charges and fines starting at $1,000. Despite this recent incident, the FAA has actually began to loosen its UAV regulations, but barely. With more businesses applying for commercial drone use, it’s only a matter of time that the FAA will streamline its UAV regulations and application process.

Though these flying machines may have a violent beginning, they offer a great potential for many positive uses. It would seem the sky really is the limit.

– By Tim Alan

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