The speed of the transition of drones from war zones to retail stores has been phenomenal, especially given the negative associations and misconceptions surrounding them. The ability to collate sensor-generated data with powerful analytic tools presents a wide range of potential commercial and industrial applications, ranging from optimising work processes to reducing expenditure on tedious manual tasks.


Listed below are the major milestones in the journey of the drone theme, as identified by GlobalData.

1782 – France: The Montgolfier brothers demonstrated unmanned balloons.

1806 – France: Scattered propaganda pamphlets all over parts of the country by using Kites from the HMS Pallas.

1848 – Austrians launched a surprise attack on Venice using bombs on 200 unmanned balloons.

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By GlobalData

1862 – US: First patent filing for a flying machine which can hold bombs was filed in Massachusetts.

1898 – American Armed forces use a kite with a camera attached to it for reconnaissance during the Spanish-American war.

1911 – Libya was attacked by Italy using drones.

1940s – US developed the GB-1 Glide Bomb, which was intended to bypass German air defences during World War II.

1960 – Lightning bug and Ryan Firebee used as remote combat aircraft.

1960s – Vietnam witnessed over 3,500 Lightning bugs deployed by the US Armed Forces.

1974 – The Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was developed by Abe Karem.

1985 – The development of Pioneer UAV initiated in the US.

1986 – Israel and American military start using the Pioneer.

1990 – Miniature micro UAVs entered military services.

1991 – At least one UAV was airborne at all times.

1993 – Meteorology and Environment studies using UAVs begin.

1999 – Kosovo, Afghanistan and other war zones witnessed extensive application of the Predator UAVs.

2007 – Iraq and Afghanistan witnessed the use of the Reaper UAV by the US.

2010 – Consumer application of drones initiated in parts of Europe and North America.

2013 – Google conceived the idea of using unmanned balloons to stream internet services in rural areas – Project Loon initiative.

2014 – Consumer drones popularity exploded for recreational purposes; the US approved a military budget of $24bn.

2016 – Consumer drones popularity reached all-time high.

2012 – The US introduced the Section 333 of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Modernisation and Reform Act of 2012.

2014 – Amazon proposed the idea of using drones to deliver packages at doorsteps.

2016 – The US introduced the Code of Federal Regulations Title 14, Part 107; Facebook’s Aquila set its first test flight.

2017 – Legalities and ethics in the foreground as drones keep getting popular.

2018 – Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research (SESAR) joint undertaking’s (JU’s) U-Space programme allocated €9.5bn ($11.5bn) to study commercial drone application across the region.

2019 – Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations to expand across the US, Europe, China and other countries as regulators relax laws.

2020 – Regulatory framework evolves towards integration of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles in several countries.

2025 – Drone applications in the commercial sector become widespread.

2028 – More countries adopt drones for commercial and military purposes, drones become omnipresent in human activities.

This is an edited extract from the Drones in Metals and Mining – Thematic Research report produced by GlobalData Thematic Research.