Civilian Drones: Past, Present, Future
Monday, July 30th, 2012
by Jason Taetsch
Could we all have our own drones one day? Following the successful test of civilian drones by CAE and Aeronautics, the Canadian government is considering removing restrictions placed on UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) for non-military purposes.
UAVs: A Storied Past
The earliest concept for UAVs dates back to the US Civil War. Both sides tried to use explosive-laden balloons to little effect. They were again employed in World War II by the Japanese, in an attempt to use the prevailing winds to carry explosives to the United States.
While these early concepts might have inspired future UAVs, modern drones have more in common with the technology used in cruise missiles than with balloons. The term drone first originated in the Vietnam War, where they were initially used for battle-field reconnaissance and later to launch surface-to-air missiles — for which they are still often used today.
UAVs for Peaceful Ends
Recent news about drones is often associated with clandestine military operations, but they have been used for years for a variety of non-military purposes. For example, in the United States, UAVs have been successfully employed to provide vital information for fire fighters.
According to the Smithsonian Magazine, imagery of an Alaskan forest fire captured from a drone provided vital data to fire officials, saving them from calling for an expensive and ultimately unnecessary evacuation. The poor visibility caused by the smoke grounded all of the manned aircraft, but the UAV was able to deliver the images of the smoke and flames.
The Case for Deregulation
Fire officials are not alone in calling for the deregulation of UAV technology. Their usefulness is highlighted by the considerable variations of drones, from small devices no larger than birds to the larger UAVs capable of carrying advanced technology as well as cargo. As the San Francisco Chronicle states, “Potential civilian uses are as varied as the drones themselves.”
Energy companies want to use UAVs to monitor pipelines, power lines, and other utility infrastructure. Farmers could use drones to monitor livestock and crops. Journalists, meanwhile, have experimented with the devices to gather news coverage. Even shipping companies have investigated using drones to carry cargo in pilotless vehicles.
Grounded, for Now
Concerns for air-traffic congestion, privacy, and safety have kept civilian drones grounded for now, but the projected benefits of UAVs may be hard for officials to ignore for very long. In the meantime, if you really need a drone, you can always use a balloon.
Jason Taetsch is a freelance content writer with experience in tech writing, blogs, travel writing, pop culture and a range of promotional materials. Jason blogs via Contently.com.