Bowling Green, KY. (April 5th, 2019) – Drones are changing the way we approach old problems—from doing business to recovering from natural disasters. But, they’ve been a long time coming.
As a way to create safer, cheaper alternatives to manned military aircraft, pilotless projectiles (such as aerial torpedoes) and radio-controlled aircraft were in use as far back as World War I. Used primarily for aerial photo reconnaissance or bombing missions, these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) evolved over the years.
In 1935, the British developed UAV known as the De Havilland DH.82B Queen Bee—a low-cost, radio-controlled target aircraft for realistic anti-aircraft gunnery training. Legend has it that U.S. Navy Cmdr. Delmer Fahrney coined the moniker “drone” for the first time.
In the 1950s and 1960s, a new craze emerged as miniaturized remote control (RC) planes became popular “toys” amongst flight enthusiasts and hobbyists.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued the first commercial drone permit in 2006 and by 2010, when the French company Parrot unveiled their Parrot AR Drone at the consumer electronics show (CES), a new fad was born, not to mention a whole new industry.
Whether you call them UAVs, drones or remotely piloted vehicles, they are not only used for military purposes, but have morphed into consumer toys and instruments to increase commercial operational efficiency.
In 2013, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos proffered the possibility of making deliveries using RC drones and how it might impact his business. By 2016, a little-known company (DJI) based in Shenzhen, China, began releasing a quadcopter drone series known as the Phantom.
Today, consumer models such as the Phantom Pro 4 (equipped with five direction obstacle avoidance system and 1-inch 20-megapixel cameras) or Rapidly Deployable Aerial Surveillance System (RDASS) quadcopter, such as the Leptron RDASS HD2 (with navigation lights and GoPro Hero 4 cameras), seem to be zipping by everywhere.
The FAA has modified its rules, regulations and licensing requirements in order to operate a “small unmanned aircraft (UAS) operations other than model aircraft” as both the technology and its various uses continue to evolve (see below*).
After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Duke Energy sent 200 volunteers, along with five drone units, to search for broken utility poles, to identify the locations of downed power lines buried under vegetation, and to lift or hold power lines during installations and repairs in otherwise inaccessible terrain.
Recently, AT&T began using drones for tower site inspections, noting that the use of UAVs allowed AT&T personnel to perform a large portion of their work while their feet are still planted firmly on the ground.
Aside from standard visual inspections, UAVs are used to identify nests (often the home of protected bird species) built high on broadcast towers but often hidden from the eyes of someone climbing the tower who may inadvertently disrupt the nest and aggravate the “occupants”; as a former tower climber myself, I can attest to the danger of being assaulted by an angry bird!
From the first World War to 2019, we’ve come a long way when it comes to this technology. It’s hard to imagine where we’ll be in another 100 years.
*Fact Sheet: Small Unmanned Aircraft Regulations
About the Author: Chip Spann is the Director of Engineering and Technical Services at Connected Nation. He leads the ETS team in discussions with broadband service providers on data collection and improvements, developing propagation models for wireless coverage, and providing engineering solutions for providers, communities, and states. He also oversees extensive field validation and mobile drive testing.
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