Drone Technology: The Winding Road of History and Coming Times

Drone technology has advanced a lot, making drones lighter, smarter, and more reliable. But how it begins?

Drones especially in multicopter configuration can fly low without any downward drag force, as found in helicopters. Drones can also fly around objects, have maneuverability, and take pictures straight ahead or straight down. The view produced by drones was initially referred to as stealth reconnaissance. It is constructed when the use of drones was used by the military, namely to observe from above.

This article is an exploration of the historical journey of unmanned aerial vehicles or popularly called drones. The purpose of this feature to find out several important events in the evolution of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) and to explain and map the evolution of drone development over time.

The Brief History of Unmanned Aerial Technology

Human efforts to fly have been tested since the beginning of the history of human civilization. Since ancient times, the desire to fly has been attempted by a Greek architect and artist named Dedal and Icarus.

Then continued the bird anatomy project by a famous scientist during the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci, 1452-1519. After that, the experimental project in the form of a parachute by Montgolfier in 1783.

It did not stop here; efforts continued with the desire to create a drone that could be flown easier and lighter by Santos-Dumont in 1899 and Zeppelin, 1900-1909. Then, experiments continued with remote-controlled drones by Otto Lilienthal, 1890-1896. Until finally, it was developed rapidly during World War I and World War II.

Unmanned aerial vehicles have been known by many names and acronyms throughout history, namely; Drones, RPV (Remotely Piloted Vehicle), UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), UCAV (Uninhabited Combat Aerial Vehicle), FVO (Organic Aerial Vehicle), UCAV/S (Uninhabited Combat Aircraft Vehicles/System), RPA (Remotely Piloted Aircraft), RPH (Remotely Piloted Helicopter), Aerial Robotics, and MAV (Micro Aerial Vehicle).

Although it comes with various names, drone technology still has the main principles of how drones are controlled, namely 100% pilot control, a combination of pilot control and artificial intelligence, and 100% artificial intelligence.

Drones are better known as unmanned aerial systems or long-range aircraft systems. This drone technology makes so many significant changes. As the early history of its development, drones only functioned as part of military activity. Even today, most of the use of drones is for military purposes.

However, apart from the military, drones have also shown many unprecedented benefits, especially in specific creative and essential sectors, such as the creative industry sector, the mining industry, the agricultural industry, and the courier industry.

The name drone comes from the English word “drone,” which means male bee. This name is due to the buzzing sound it produces. The good news is that current drone technology has made the drone noise-sound more and more disappearing. In effect, some industries refer to drones more often as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV).

Illustration of drone for civil, non-military, and commercial function
Illustration of drone for civil, non-military, and commercial function (unsplash/Jonathan Chng)

How Does Drone Technology Work?

Drones work based on the lift that occurs due to the propeller’s rotation driven by a rotor or electric motor. Lift or lift is usually associated with the wings of a fixed-wing airfoil model. Still, the lift can also be generated by propellers, kites, helicopters, sailboats, even in the shape of a car.

The theory to explain lift or lift is Bernoulli’s principle; namely, airflow is constant energy. When air flows in parts that have low air pressure, the airflow will be faster. Bernoulli’s principle, the air pressure at the top moves faster, so the pressure is lower than at the bottom, where the airflow moves more slowly. The difference in air pressure produces aerodynamic forces.

In Newton’s third law, the lift is generated due to the air pressure and the compressive force from the wing area. The pressure from the wing area does not produce pure energy. Still, a pressure difference is needed to create lift.

The direction of rotation of the propellers is divided into two different directions of rotation, namely, Clock Wise (CW) and Counter Clockwise (CCW). The difference in rotation on each motor aims to avoid causing a twisting moment on the quadcopter body.

The basic movement of the quadcopter consists of four movements. The first movement is Roll (moves sideways), Pitch (moves back and forth), Yaw (motions in rotation), and Throttle (moves up landing and take off).

Military Drone Technology

The military is one type of institution that is ambitiously developing drones. By the military, UAV technology was developed and explored over the years. Until, for the first time, drones were used for the United States military observation in 1973, during the Vietnam-United States War.

In the modern era, UAV is one of the mainstay technologies on the battlefield. Drones offer safety to pilots even in enemy lines. The worst risk, the drone is shot by the enemy. Despite sacrificing millions of dollars for a destroyed plane, at least one pilot’s life was saved.

The UAV is just one integral part of an extensive system called the Unmanned Aircraft System. This large system concept includes all systems with controls on the base and sensors designed to be integrated.

There are different types of drones in the military and civilian worlds. That is, there are many categories to classify drones circulating on this earth. But, for simplicity and as an initial introduction, UAVs in various military activities are categorized by weight, function, and technology. Here is the division:

Based on their weight, you will see three types of UAVs, namely:

  • Micro drones or small drones (under 150 kg). These drones are most commonly found in various military operations on the battlefield. 
  • Tactic drones (150-600 kg). This drone has a combination of flexibility, durability, and toughness.
  • Strategic drone (above 600 kg). This drone has various types of functions. With its large size, this drone is indeed used for military activities that are more conceptual, long-term military tactics, and the like.

Based on the function, there are five types of drones:

  • Target and decoy UAVs: This type of drone use to assist attack activities on targets or enemies.
  • Reconnaissance UAV: These drones use to provide intelligence.
  • Combat UAV: These drones use to carry out military attack activities against targets or enemies.
  • Research and Development UAV: ​​This drone is used for UAV research and development activities to improve existing UAVs.
  • Civil and Commercial UAVs: These drones are designed and used in both civilian and commercial activities.

UAVs are also classified according to their autonomous technology. They were ranging from simple technology to the most advanced with total autonomy capabilities.

Most early generation UAVs and civilian used are called drones because they are not as advanced as RC (Radio Controlled) aircraft. These early-generation drones needed total control from a human operator or pilot. Some of the authorities are already autonomous in more highly developed drones. In another name, no pilot control is required—for example, stabilization control, speed control, and navigation control.

Illustration drone pilot deck simulator
Illustration drone pilot deck simulator (pexels/ ThisIsEngineering)

Because it still needs operator control, the UAV cannot be considered autonomous. In the military context, UAV autonomy is crucial. Because UAVs need to be a device that must be ready for various types of military activities. The classifications below are the different types of UAVs that already use autonomous technology:

  • Combination of sensors: This UAV combines multi-data sourced from various sensors. These data become the benchmark for autonomous UAV actions.
  • Communication UAV: ​​This type of UAV helps handle communication within coordination between multiple agents.
  • Motion planning aka Path Planning: This type of UAV can determine/make the optimal path for vehicles to pass.
  • Track generation UAV: ​​This type of UAV can perform control maneuvers to follow a particular path/trajectory/circuit.
  • Task allocation and scheduling: This type of UAV can distribute tasks to many agents.
  • Cooperative tactics of UAV: ​​This type of UAV has the advantage of formulating formulations/tactics for then distributing from/to several activities between various agents.

The various types and levels of UAV autonomy are prospects for forming a fully autonomous smart-UAV with intelligence. UAVs’ current development and opportunities reflect the rapid growth of artificial intelligence systems in various fields in the 1980s and early 1990s.

The ultimate goal of UAV technology development is an autonomous system with a systemic intelligence to replace the function of a human pilot operator as a whole. In this way, military drone technology makes it possible to carry out critical missions around the world.

Future Drone Technology: Latest 5 years And Coming Times

The development of drone technology is almost difficult to limit. It means that there are more and more significant improvements and innovations in every action of drone technology. Based on airdronecraze, drone technology can be divided into seven main generations. Unfortunately, most drone technology on the market/civilians is still in the fifth and fourth generations. Here’s the division:

  • Gen 1: Basic remote-control aircraft of various types.
  • Gen 2: Statistical design, fixed camera mount, video and still photo recording, manual pilot control.
  • Gen 3: Static design, two-axis gimbal, HD video, basic safety model, assisted piloting.
  • Gen 4: Transformative design, three-axis gimbal, 1080P HD video or higher value instrumentation, enhanced security mode, and autopilot mode.
  • Gen 5: Transformative design, 360° gimbal, 4K video or excellent instrumentation, intelligent trial mode.
  • Gen 6: Commercial compatibility, safety, regulatory-based design, platform and adaptability, automatic safety mode, intelligent piloting model and full autonomy, airspace awareness.
  • Gen 7: Complete commercial compatibility, fully compliant safety and regulatory standards-based design, exchange and payload platforms, automatic safety modes, enhanced intelligent piloting models and autonomy, full airspace awareness, automated actions, and mission execution).

The latest generation of drones, namely the 7th generation, has arrived on earth. A drone technology company in the Indonesia, Beehive Drones, released the 7th generation drone, the world’s first all-in-one Smart-Drone called Solo.

Smart drones with built-in protection and compliance technology, intelligent, accurate sensors, and self-monitoring are a significant revolution. This drone technology revolution will open up many new opportunities in the creative industries, transportation, military, agriculture, logistics, commercial sectors.

Drone technology does not stop exporting and developing. The hope is that drones will become safer, more valuable, and more reliable. The peak of the development of this drone technology is an adaptation of the evolution of drone technology on the broader community.

Illustration of drone for better community
Illustration of drone for better community (unsplash/Bertrand Bouchez)


  • www.mydronelab.com/blog/types-of-military-drones.html
  • www.dronezon.com/learn-about-drones-quadcopters/what-is-drone-technology-or-how-does-drone-technology-work/
  • interestingengineering.com/a-brief-history-of-drones-the-remote-controlled-unmanned-aerial-vehicles-uavs
  • www.researchgate.net/publication/3226769_Evolution_or_revolution_The_rise_of_UAVs
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