Monday, January 4, 2016

The Miniaturization of Flight

I learned today that around a million “drones” were packaged for this Christmas this year; indeed I saw a kiosk at a nearby mall busily demonstrating and selling them—the devices swirling around in the air. They came in two varieties: those with and those without a camera.

Miniaturization is probably part of all evolving technology, biological or mechanical. The most memorable for me are clocks: huge things that once needed tall towers—and brass bells to broadcast the time to those who couldn’t see the towers—or by night. Now watches are easily worn on the wrist. The radio figures in my memories too. The first one I saw as a child at grandmother’s house had a vast, black horn. Radios were big—pieces of furniture. One such—too nice to discard—still lives in our garage, and has so lived, protected by wrapping, for thirty years. Now radios have become small enough to fit into an ear.

TVs, computers, telephones. The list of objects miniaturized is quite long but, deep down, associated with humanity’s growing skill in making transistors ever smaller. Transistors are the fundamental amplifying and switching devices of electronics—and therefore central in communications and computation. The illustration included (from Wikipedia here), shows the diminution of the size in these devices. The last of these, a so-called small-outline transistor, has a an internal diameter ranging from 1.9 to 0.5 millimeters.  

When you think about it, the miniaturization of flight has taken rather a long time. It has required development of real-time radio guidance so that the “pilot” can constantly pinpoint the object’s location—and the locations of other objects in its immediate vicinity. Those problems have now been solved—although I wonder what millions upon millions of such devices—each using the limited wireless spectrum—will have on other forms of communication.

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride. For about $150 (that’s a little drone with a camera), our eyes can already take a ride although the beggar is still slouched on a sunny veranda.

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