The Origins of Drones: When were Drones Invented?

David Lemay24 Jan 2022

Small flying devices referred to as drones are known by the more general term unmanned aerial vehicles. They are either controlled remotely or operating completely autonomously.

Drones have been used as weapons of war since their conception. Because they are capable of firing missiles at targets from a distance, drones were originally deployed as unmanned aerial weapons. However, in modern times, drones have found many ways (many of which are exciting!) to be used as an alternative for manned aircraft.

These drones can be very useful for photography and videography due to their simplicity and agile manoeuvrability. So far drones have been employed for things like monitoring climate change by carrying instruments into the air that would otherwise be impractical from mountaintops or hot air balloons. They also help with safer rescues, they are used extensively in agriculture, and they frequently assist in monitoring traffic. There is even talk of using drones as missile defence systems by launching small explosives at targets as alternatives to risking expensive weaponry!

When were drones invented?

As a child, I remember being fascinated by how drones were depicted as military tools in movies and other television shows. Today when we think of military drones, such as quadcopters and planes, sleek, advanced technology comes to mind. However the world’s inventors and militaries first developed drone technology in the form of balloons, torpedoes and aerial targets – something that might surprise you!

The First Attempt of Using Military UAV

Drones, first known as unmanned balloons, were used for one of the first times in combat by Austrians against the Venetians. In 1849, Austrian forces who were besieging Venice at the time launched around 200 of these incendiary balloons over the city. Each balloon carried between 11 and 14 kgs of bombs. Once in position, they dropped them to wreak havoc on the city below. Fortunately for the Venetians, only one bomb found its mark, as most of the balloons were blown off-course due to a sudden change in wind direction.

The First-Ever Camera on a Drone

In 1858, Gasper Felix Tournachon took the first aerial photograph from a hot-air balloon in Paris, France. Unfortunately, this historic milestone is generally overlooked when talking about historical photography because of several holes in the photograph.

In 1896, Alfred Nobel launches a rocket equipped with a camera and fires it off into the twilight skies to take the first aerial photographs ever made by an unmanned system and lifts flight photography to new heights!

In 1915 during the Battle of Neuve Chapelle British forces used aerial photography to create a map of their German enemy. To produce this detailed map, the photographs were all laid on top of one another and assembled into an orthomosaic - one of the earliest examples in the world, although it's hard to believe it was created almost one hundred years ago.

Commercial Drones

In response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Aviation Administration passed new regulations permitting the use of UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) for civilian search and rescue operations in 2006. And predator drones using thermal cameras were able to detect heat signatures of humans from high altitudes of up to 10,000 feet. This was when both consumer-grade and surveying-grade drone technology began to evolve into a shape that we see today.

In 2010, French drone manufacturer Parrot unveiled their AR Drone - a consumer quadcopter. The unit was only nineteen centimetres across and contained four rotors for indoor flight. At a launch event in Paris, the company declared that the unit would revolutionize the consumer robotics industry by redefining what it meant to have control over an autonomous vehicle. The UAV could be operated with an app on your smartphone. Some journalists at the launch were recording the footage of managing editor Nicolas Palazzi as he tested out this revolutionary new drone!

In 2013, DJI released their drone design (Phantom Drone). Its popularity exploded as drone pilots quickly realized that this unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was able to capture images like no other drone on the market at that time. It also helped that you could control this innovative remotely-controlled aircraft with an app on your smartphone – which rapidly became a hot seller in its own right. Just 4 years later, DJI had cornered almost 80% of the consumer sector for drones – their domination even more pronounced if compared with commercial flight drones which were primarily manufactured by Boeing or Lockheed Martin.

Delivery Drones

Since 2013, major delivery companies have been looking into a new type of platform to deliver their packages and other goods. The Drone Delivery industry is growing more popular by the minute, but many companies like FedEx, UPS, Amazon and Google are also eyeing this market as an opportunity to expand. However, multiple issues keep these drone companies from having full access to the market. Things such as regulation laws regarding drones can delay testing or effective use of this product in certain areas, but it looks like the growth in the drone industry is expected to continue for years to come!

Agricultural Drones

Some of the first evidence of using a camera on a drone was reported by Thurling in 1985. He used it for taking vertical images of weeds in an oilseed crop. Two years later, Yamaha demonstrated a prototype R-50. It was considered a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) at that time and had advanced capabilities compared to other systems at the time. Then, in 1989, the company produced its first commercial drone. Unfortunately, it had complicated controls and did not comply with international flying regulations.

The Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences was the first institution to develop a camera drone. It was used in 1991 for gathering observations on crop trials. This led to more progress; in 1999 another breakthrough took place when Hungarian engineer, Laslo Kiss, introduced his invention. It weighed 17 kg and was made of methanol-driven UAV and could fly 20-30 minutes. Dr Anders Larsoine (SLU) proposed yet another use for camera drones in 1992 where they could be used for studying late blight in potato plants.


One of the coolest inventions is drones. Drones are used for military purposes, commercial purposes and for delivering things. Drones are now being used by journalists to take pictures of events and news stories. Drones are used in the delivery of products and medicines. Drones can also be used to help farmers. Drones have been used to deliver blood and medicine in emergencies. Drones have also been used by rescue teams to find missing people. Drones are a popular subject for science fiction films. Drones can be used for good purposes and bad purposes, so drone users need to know the rules about drones

David Lemay

David Lemay

I'm David Lemay, a lover of tech and have had an interest in drones for years. Bought my first few drones, before I started building my own. I want to share my passion with others, so I started this site to help others who want to get into the hobby.

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