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The term drone has been used from the early days of aviation, being applied to remotely-flown target aircraft used for practice firing of a battleship's guns, such as the 1920s Fairey Queen and 1930s de Havilland Queen Bee. Later examples included the Airspeed Queen Wasp and Miles Queen Martinet, before ultimate replacement by the GAF Jindivik.[11] The term remains in common use. In addition to the software, autonomous drones also employ a host of advanced technologies that allow them to carry out their missions without human intervention, such as cloud computing, computer vision, artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, and thermal sensors.[12] For recreational uses, an aerial photography drone (as opposed to a UAV) is an aircraft that has first-person video, autonomous capabilities, or both.[13]


Significant development of drones started in the 1900s, and originally focused on providing practice targets for training military personnel. The earliest attempt at a powered UAV was A. M. Low's "Aerial Target" in 1916.[38] Low confirmed that Geoffrey de Havilland's monoplane was the one that flew under control on 21 March 1917 using his radio system.[39] Following this successful demonstration in the spring of 1917 Low was transferred to develop aircraft controlled fast motor launches D.C.B.s with the Royal Navy in 1918 intended to attack shipping and port installations and he also assisted Wing Commander Brock in preparations for the Zeebrugge Raid. Other British unmanned developments followed, leading to the fleet of over 400 de Havilland 82 Queen Bee aerial targets that went into service in 1935.

The development of smart technologies and improved electrical-power systems led to a parallel increase in the use of drones for consumer and general aviation activities. As of 2021, quadcopter drones exemplify the widespread popularity of hobby radio-controlled aircraft and toys, however the use of UAVs in commercial and general aviation is limited by a lack of autonomy[clarification needed] and by new regulatory environments which require line-of-sight contact with the pilot.[citation needed]

Traditional internal combustion and jet engines remain in use for drones requiring long range. However, for shorter-range missions electric power has almost entirely taken over. The distance record for a UAV (built from balsa wood and mylar skin) across the North Atlantic Ocean is held by a gasoline model airplane or UAV. Manard Hill "in 2003 when one of his creations flew 1,882 miles across the Atlantic Ocean on less than a gallon of fuel" holds this record.[76]

Besides the traditional piston engine, the Wankel rotary engine is used by some drones. This type offers high power output for lower weight, with quieter and more vibration-free running. Claims have also been made for improved reliability and greater range.[citation needed]

Small drones mostly use lithium-polymer batteries (Li-Po), while some larger vehicles have adopted the a hydrogen fuel cell. The energy density of modern Li-Po batteries is far less than gasoline or hydrogen. However electric motors are cheaper, lighter and quieter. Complex multi-engine, multi-propeller installations are under development with the goal of improving aerodynamic and propulsive efficiency. For such complex power installations, Battery elimination circuitry (BEC) may be used to centralize power distribution and minimize heating, under the control of a microcontroller unit (MCU).

Modern networking standards have explicitly considered drones and therefore include optimizations. The 5G standard has mandated reduced user plane latency to 1ms while using ultra-reliable and low-latency communications.[88]

Solar-powered atmospheric satellites ("atmosats") designed for operating at altitudes exceeding 20 km (12 miles, or 60,000 feet) for as long as five years could potentially perform duties more economically and with more versatility than low Earth orbit satellites. Likely applications include weather drones for weather monitoring, disaster recovery, Earth imaging and communications.

In recent years, autonomous drones have begun to transform various application areas as they can fly beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS)[115] while maximizing production, reducing costs and risks, ensuring site safety, security and regulatory compliance,[116] and protecting the human workforce in times of a pandemic.[117] They can also be used for consumer-related missions like package delivery, as demonstrated by Amazon Prime Air, and critical deliveries of health supplies.

The civilian (commercial and general) drone market is dominated by Chinese companies. Chinese drone manufacturer DJI alone had 74% of the civil market share in 2018, with no other company accounting for more than 5%, and with $11 billion forecast global sales in 2020.[128] Following increased scrutiny of its activities, the US Interior Department grounded its fleet of DJI drones in 2020, while the Justice Department prohibited the use of federal funds for the purchase of DJI and other foreign made UAVs.[129][130] DJI is followed by Chinese company Yuneec, US company 3D Robotics and French company Parrot with a significant gap in market share.[131] As of May 2021, 873,576 UAVs have been registered with the US FAA, of which 42% are categorized as commercial drones and 58% as recreational drones.[132] 2018 NPD point to consumers increasingly purchasing drones with more advanced features with 33 percent growth in both the $500+ and $1000+ market segments.[133]

Consumer drones are also widely used by military organizations worldwide because of the cost-effective nature of consumer product. In 2018, Israeli military started to use DJI Mavic and Matrice series of UAV for light reconnaissance mission since the civil drones are easier to use and have higher reliability. DJI drones is also the most widely used commercial unmanned aerial system that the US Army has employed.[137][138] DJI surveillance drones have also been used by Chinese police in Xinjiang since 2017.[139][140]

Drones are ideally suited to capturing aerial shots in photography and cinematography, and are widely used for this purpose.[119] Small drones avoid the need for precise coordination between pilot and cameraman, with the same person taking on both roles. However, big drones with professional cine cameras, there is usually a drone pilot and a camera operator who controls camera angle and lens. For example, the AERIGON cinema drone which is used in film production in big blockbuster movies is operated by 2 people.[143] Drones provide access to dangerous, remote or otherwise inaccessible sites.

As global demand for food production grows exponentially, resources are depleted, farmland is reduced, and agricultural labor is increasingly in short supply, there is an urgent need for more convenient and smarter agricultural solutions than traditional methods, and the agricultural drone and robotics industry is expected to make progress.[149] Agricultural drones have been used to help build sustainable agriculture all over the world leading to a new generation of agricolture.[150] In this context, there is a proliferation of innovations in both tools and methodologies which allow precise description of vegetation state and also may help to precisely distribute nutrients or pesticides over a field.[4]

The implementation of the Class Identification Label serves a crucial purpose in the regulation and operation of drones.[179] The label is a verification mechanism designed to confirm that drones within a specific class meet the rigorous standards set by administrations for design and manufacturing.[180] These standards are necessary to ensure the safety and reliability of drones in various industries and applications.

By providing this assurance to customers, the Class Identification Label helps to increase confidence in drone technology and encourages wider adoption across industries. This, in turn, contributes to the growth and development of the drone industry and supports the integration of drones into society.

Images, and the devices that capture them, are my focus. I've covered cameras at PCMag for the past 10 years, which has given me a front row seat for the DSLR to mirrorless transition, the smartphone camera revolution, and the mainstream adoption of drones for aerial imaging. You can find me on Instagram @jamespfisher.

And, now the bad news: You get what you pay for. If you want an aerial video platform that can capture stunning footage, you need to spend some cash, anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Because drones are such pricey propositions, it pays to do your research before buying one.

The DJI Air 2S has a camera with an oversized Type 1 (also called 1-inch) sensor for much better 20MP stills than you can get from the DJI Mini series drones. It supports 5.4K30 and 4K60 video with HDR, flat, or standard profiles, plus it can snap photos in Raw or JPG format. DJI's strong safety features are here too, including GPS location, obstacle sensors, ADS-B to warn you of nearby manned aircraft, and a 30-minute battery.

The Evo Nano+ is a good drone for pilots who want a quadcopter they can take up in the air without baked-in geofencing restrictions, like the DJI FlySafe system that some see as restrictive. The 249g takeoff weight allows you to use it a bit more freely than heavier drones and the picture quality is very good, with aggressive sharpening being the real knock. The Nano+ is a good drone for beginner and advanced pilots alike.

The Avata is a drone for those who want fast-paced, close-to-the-ground, and elaborately choreographed footage. Take the Avata up high and you might see some wobble in the camera that you don't get with cinema drones, but you can also bank and turn to convey a sense of motion. We like that it's easy enough for anyone to pick up and fly, though pros can swap a dual-stick remote for fully manual flight at 60mph. On the other hand, we're a bit put off by just how easy it is to crash; make sure you have a safe place to fly it. 041b061a72

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