Drones or UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) have been around flying around for more than 100 years. More than 95% of these cool flying machines are flow by hobbyists. But in the last two years the drone market has grown from 42,000 units to 420,000 units, according to the FAA. The drone industry is evolving faster than the FAA can wrap its arms fully around it. Still, the feds are doing a great job catching up.

In Germany drones deliver medicines. In Africa they convey critical medical supplies and in Singapore ferry pizzas to customers. The demand for this emerging technology is not expected to reach its peak for another few years. One area where UAV are proving most successful is in public safety. Regardless of application, this new technology is gaining traction in all business sectors due to low cost, reliability and a small environmental footprint.

Let me give you a brief history of drone technology:

1849 – Austrians loaded unmanned balloons with bombs to use in the war with the Venetian Republic in Italy.

1916 – During World War I, the United States developed an aerial drone controlled by a gyroscope that could drop bombs on the enemy. Later versions could fly a distance of 40 miles.

1937 – The U.S. Navy develops the Curtiss N2c-2 unmanned drone that could be piloted from a nearby aircraft.

1940 – In preparation for World War II, the U.S. Army commissioned a radio controlled aircraft system known as Radioplane. Nearly 15,000 units were produced during the war.

1973 – The Israelis develop the Mastiff which was successfully used for scouting and surveillance.

1982 – Israel’s air force use unmanned craft during the Syrian War, sustaining minimal casualties while proving the technology very reliable.

1985 – The U.S. Air Force develops a large scale research and development program to study drones.

2006 – One year after Hurricane Katrina the FAA authorizes use of UAVs in civilian air space during disasters.

2010 – France releases the first consumer drone for hobbyists, dubbed the Parrot.

2013 – Dà-Jiāng Innovations (DJI) introduces the Phantom I followed by the Phantom II, the first commercial drones equipped with cameras. This expanded the use of drone technology in filmmaking.

2014 – The FAA permits Hollywood film and production companies to use drones on set.

2014-FAA permits Hollywood film and production companies to use on set.

Use of drones continues to rapidly advance. Often the initial product or services offered appeal to only a small audience. However, drones are evolving to create new markets by offering higher quality and less disruption of existing technologies. In particular, drone technology is proving itself a benefit to the oil and gas industry thanks to its ability to operate in risky environments.

In our next installment we will explore the tools this new technology can provide.

Bruce D. Arvizu, MPA, is a retired Battalion Chief for Los Angeles County Fire whose last assignment included 11 refineries near the Port of Los Angeles. Today he serves as an expert on drone technology with the Department of Homeland Security’s Emerging Technology Group. You may contact him at [email protected].