In 2011, Personal Drones Could Do Everything That Military Drones Do, Aside From Actually Blowing up Things.
Chris Anderson is currently the cofounder and CEO of 3D Robotics, a drone manufacturing company. In 2012, when he was the editor in chief of Wired, he wrote an article on how he created a domestic drone boom.
In the article he said drones at the 2011 Paris Air show were being sold as the future of warfare at prices in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Even back then drones were spoken of as the future, they were beginning to available easily, were small fully autonomous, and cheap. Personal drones could do everything that military drones do, aside from actually blowing up things. The FAA had in 2012 not officially allowed commercial drone use.
Anderson compared the use of drones by amateurs to the early personal computers; the main reason of use at that point was experimentation and some geeky fun. But as personal drones go more sophisticated, they began to serve more purposes. Apart from the film industry beginning to use drones, they were also being used for crop management and wildlife management apart from various other scientific uses.
An online drone community which Anderson started had 26,000 members at that point of time. All these members flew drones that they either assembled themselves or bought from the companies that were serving the amateurs. Anderson realized that the drone age was coming.
Anderson defined a drone as an aircraft that has the capability of autonomous flight, which means they can follow a mission from point to point (typically guided by GPS, but soon possible through vision and other sensors). This differentiated them from radio-controlled aircraft, which need to be manually piloted.
The definition fits drones even today as it did back in 2012, a $140 million Global Hawk drone and the $500 foam plane consumer drone both are encompassed in this definition. Making a functioning autopilot drone requires sensors and those sensors were becoming cheaper and smaller. Various other parts such as Gyroscopes, magnetometers, accelerometers etc were beginning to be readily available at cheap prices.
He accurately described this generation of cheap, small drones as essentially a fleet of flying smart phones as more autopilot electronics began to look like smart phones and mentioned that the drone revolution was catching on because of the availability and inexpensive prices they were sold at.