Drone technology is changing the way people can see the world as evidenced by this awesome video of the Miami shoreline. While many people think of airstrikes and military activity when the word drone is used, businesses are frequently using a different type of drone to scale video to new heights quite literally. Here’s a little background on drones and how companies are using them for creatively for video.
The History of Aerial Video and “Quadcopters”
Aerial video has a long history that many people may not realize. The first aerial photograph was taken in 1860 in Boston, Massachusetts from a hot air balloon 690 yard in the air. From there, cameras were being affixed to kites, carrier pigeons, and any other device people could find through the early 1900’s. The military helped further the use of cameras in the air as by World War II, smaller and faster planes required that cameras be able to take photos at faster speeds. As we entered the 1950’s, we continued going up as we explored space. In 1963, Americans saw the first view of the Earth from the moon in their television sets. As this technology improved though, it still wasn’t accessible to the average person and certainly was far too big for anyone to use even if it was affordable. Enter the quadcopter.
Aside from the name “drone,” you may also hear the word quadcopter used to describe modern day unmanned aerial vehicles that are used to record video. Quadcopters are also an older technology that originated almost 100 years ago. In 1920 the first quadcopter, the Omnichen2, was invented in 1920 by Etienne Omnichen. The next major jump in technology was in 1956 with the development of the Covertawings Model A quadcopter. It was the first to use propulsion to control roll, pitch, and yaw. Technology continued to improve in 1958 when the Curtis Wright company developed the VZ-7 that used variable thrust in the four propellers to control thrust.
The History of Military Drones
Any history lesson on civilian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) would be remiss to not include the background on military drones. The U.S. military has been at the forefront in the creation of UAV’s beginning in 1917 with the “Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane” or “flying bomb.” This place could fly 50 miles and carry a 300-pound bomb after being shot off by a catapult. During World War II, radio-controlled guide bombs were used to attack targets. Drone technology was pushed to dramatically improve after pilot Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960 while piloting a U-2 spy plane. As a result of the incident, the Air Force gave money to Ryan Aeronautical Company to develop the U.S. Military’s first surveillance drone. Nicknamed the “Lightning Bug,” the U.S. military started using unmanned reconnaissance planes in May 1964. While China shot one of these planes out of the air later in the year, the technology allowed the U.S. to take greater risks than it could otherwise and they were a key to strategic decision making in the Vietnam War. Other drone technologies were developed by the CIA including the Aquiline and Axillary airplanes at the same time. In the 1970’s, the Ryan company challenged a top pilot to square off against an unmanned aircraft and the pilot could not keep pace with the maneuvers completed by the remote controlled aircraft. As a result of this test and others, the military started many years of testing to look at the use of drones as a weapon. In the early 1990’s, Abraham Karem with General Atomics created the GNAT-750. The GNAT-750 was used in the Bosnian War and was the first technology that allowed intelligence officers to really hone in on small targets from across the world through communication with members of the military on the ground.
Overall though, the GNAT-750 has several shortcomings including a vulnerability to poor weather and a short relatively short range. Its problems were fixed with the introduction of the Predator drone. The Predator is what most people typically think of when the word drone is mentioned. The Predator was used in the late 1990’s for surveillance and in the early 2000’s, the military began using it to attack targets with Tomahawk missiles in Afghanistan.
The Modern Quadcopter
Modern quadcopters are absolutely tiny and many people look at them like toys. The modern quadcopter is used for many different functions including shipping, farming, police surveillance, disaster management, search and rescue, structural safety inspections, and storm tracking. When combined with technologies like GoPro though, they can also produce absolutely fantastic video. The Phantom 2 is a very popular drone that can come with an attachment to hold a GoPro, but there are also many others for as cheap as $42 like the SYMA X5C. These cameras can be used for a lot of different types of videos, but the biggest impact is wide-view crowd videos created by the average person or business.
With cameras available at reasonable rates now, here are some of the ways they are changing event recording:
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