The rise of drones and the emergence of a new industry
14. 02. 2022.
Drones, just like most technical devices today, initially served in the military and began to develop in this area. It leaked to the public sphere in the 1960s, and today it plays such a major role that a new industrial revolution is being mentioned. Even the European Commission predicts that more than a hundred thousand people will be employed in drone-related areas in the next two decades, and its economic impact is at least € 10 billion. What is more, it has to be mentioned that seventy thousand drones are already on the market in Hungary today.
Quick win of wars with minimal loss of life
It has always been a challenge to map enemy areas and track the movements of enemy troops in wars. It is obvious that observing all this from the air is the best way to solve the issue, as it was realized in France at the end of the eighteenth century. At first, huge balloons were attached to the ground, with people inside, so they could accurately discover the area. After the operation, the balloon was pulled back to the ground with the help of the rope. The technology was not properly developed, no means were available from above to communicate real-time information. However, they could be kept in the air for an extremely long time and were not affected by infantry fire. Its advantages were exploited in the American Civil War between 1861 and 1865, furthermore, it was an essential part of the cityscape, keeping an eye on the surrounding areas.
The idea of unassisted aerial vehicles began to unfold after the two World Wars. Air defence began to evolve at a rapid pace, so pilots were exposed to constant danger, thus attempts were made to come up with autopiloted aerial vehicles to overcome it. The first drones were used by the U.S. Army in the 1960s, the so-called D-21, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, the U.S. Army’s major aircraft / military equipment supplier, which later took an active part in the development of spacecrafts. Yet the first weapon carrying drone can only be linked indirectly to the U.S.: 12 drones were secretly sold to Israel, who employed it with success against Egypt in 1973. Israel thus started its own drone development, their most famous model being named the “Scout”, with which they were able to execute a huge blow on the Syrian air defence in 1982. One of the best-known drones, Pioneer, can also be connected to Israel, from which the U.S. also purchased, and was then successfully deployed in operation Desert Storm (when Allied forces attacked Iranian targets during the Gulf War in 1991).
Meanwhile, the Americans were not idle either, by 1994 they had developed their drone, called Predator, which was put into practice a year later in the Bosnian war. The Predator can spend 24 hours in the air and at the same time it broadcasts real-time, high-quality images. At first, its purpose was reconnaissance, but taking advantage of it, it was later equipped with anti-tank missiles. The U.S. does not only use the technology in war zone, but the drones have also done a great job in exploring the U.S.-Mexican border. According to border guards, the devices played a role in 3,900 arrests and the seizure of four tons of marijuana. Developments have also taken place in Europe, moreover, the unmanned target aircraft called the British Qeen Bee (“Queen of the Bee”) has been called as drone for the first time in the world.
The serious legal problem with the use of drones for military purposes is a good indication of the level of concern. According to some sources, American drones killed approximately three thousand people in Pakistan, three hundred in Yemen, and twenty in Somalia between 2004 and 2013. These were so-called “preventive attacks,” but without a war, there is no international legal basis for this. But who should be held accountable and how? How can anything be proved? The issue is already being actively addressed by the UN and the European Parliament.
The “good drones”
The use of drones for peaceful purposes is, of course, not new, and efforts to do so began as early as the 1950s. Initially, the devices were envisioned in a ground and weather observation position, but the actual implementation had to wait until 1982, when NASA took the project under its wing.
In 2019, a drone saved the life of a 44-year-old mother with three children in Baltimore. More specifically, the kidney that the drone carried. The drones are also suitable for transport up to a few kilograms, which has already been proven: the kidneys were transported to the hospital in a cool bag in ten minutes, a hundred meters high, at a speed of forty kilometres per hour. The organ, the temperature of the cooler, and the condition of the kidney were monitored and inspected by experts throughout the flight.
The field of industrial use is also extremely open to drones. There has already been an example of such an application in Hungary with the help of eNET, which can be read in more detail here.
Data collection and reconnaissance can also be a peaceful goal, for example the employees of Mecsekerdő Zrt. supervise almost half of the forests in Baranya County with the help of drones.
High-altitude work and the energy industry can also benefit greatly from the use of drones, as the device is capable of inspecting solar panels, wind turbines, oil and gas pipelines, and in the telecommunications field, they can play a role in preserving and troubleshooting antennas.
In 2016, GoPro launched its biggest novelty, the KARMA, the drone with its mountable camera. The thing worked until the drones began fall from the sky due to the battery failures of the devices. One of the cases was even videotaped, in which a falling drone nearly hit a man. The company was therefore forced to call-back all 2,500 products sold on the eve of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The announcement was made with extremely clever timing anyway, everyone was preoccupied with the results of the presidential election, and the news of the day probably didn’t even reach people’s stimulus threshold.
The Chinese DJI is dominant in the field, and while GoPro tried to start with visible successes, it almost brought the company into bankruptcy. DJI’s hit, the Mavic Pro and its upgraded version, the Mavic Platinum, can ascend to a height of 500 meters, and its control system can operate up to 7 km under the right conditions. Photographers and videographers love to use it, and the series is already at the 3rd edition at the time of writing.
There are disadvantages, but the advantages are numerous
It can be seen that the drones are slowly finding their position in all areas. Applying them saves time and money, not to mention the invaluable value of how many lives are protected from being exposed to danger. Of course, their disadvantages should not be forgotten – for example, they can fail, they require special expertise, money and time to repair, and their management is also tied to expertise – yet it is clear that drones are no longer the tools of the future. Supervising drones raises a host of legal and technical issues, so we’ll try to provide some guidance on this in the following.
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