Drone technology spans a century’s worth of science fiction and military research

Predator-firing-missile4Rudolph Herzog at Lapham's Quarterly:

When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, there were only a handful of aerial drones in its invasion force. By 2010 the Pentagon had nearly 7,500 drones in its arsenal. Today almost one in three U.S. military aircraft does not have a pilot. This technological revolution has been driven by the use of weaponized American drones, especially the Predator and Reaper. To illustrate the impact of these new weapons: drone campaigns in Pakistan, a country not at war with the U.S., have killed more people than died in the entire NATO-led war on Yugoslavia in 1999.

Despite the futuristic concept of robotic air warfare, drone technology goes back a hundred years. The technological groundwork was first established by genius inventor Nikola Tesla, who introduced radio-control technology at Madison Square Garden in 1898. Tesla immediately realized his invention’s military potential, noting that the technology would allow man to build devastating remote weapons that would be a deterrent so inhuman and destructive that, in his imagination, they would “lead to permanent peace between the nations.”

Driven by the same fin-de-siècle enthusiasm, Archibald Montgomery Low, a British engineer, recognized the potential of marrying airplanes with wireless transmission. At the beginning of World War I, he won a commission to build a remotely piloted weapon to destroy German Zeppelins.

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