Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Rise of the Drones

By Jackie Craig

Drones were a military initiative but their widespread civilian adoption is outpacing efforts to regulate their use.

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Last year I was starkly reminded of the rapid development, ease of accessibility and wide adoption of drone technology. I was rock climbing in the Italian Alps when a drone, operated by a hobbyist, appeared just above me, no doubt taking video footage of my efforts.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), popularly called drones, have their heritage within defence, and until recently their development was predominantly driven by defence applications. Drones offer key advantages in that they can undertake dangerous, long or highly repetitive missions, some with such a high degree of autonomy they require little human intervention.

Australian Defence involvement with UAVs dates back to 1948 when Jindivik was developed as a target for testing missile performance. Modern UAVs are designed for more sophisticated roles, including long-range reconnaissance and persistent surveillance of large areas.

The capability of UAVs are as much determined by the payload and off-board systems as by the airframe. For example, Australian Defence is currently acquiring the Triton system for broad-area maritime surveillance. Triton is a variant of Global Hawk, a high-altitude, long endurance land reconnaissance UAV. While the airframe remained substantially unchanged, adapting from land reconnaissance to maritime surveillance required development of the sensors, mission planning...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.