Monday, August 20, 2007

Will we always have Paris?

An IPBiz reader sent in a link, which included the following text related to the military's discovery of the effectiveness of drones:

“You can’t bring the soldier back to the farm once he has seen Paris,” says Colonel John Burke, the army’s former director of unmanned systems integration, to underscore the growing attractiveness of drones.

Were it possible, IPBiz would wish that the 212 members of Custer's battalion at Little Big Horn, who were armed with single-shot rifles thirteen (13) years AFTER the Army had seen the "Paris" of the Spencer repeater, to make comments to Colonel Burke. And yes the Indians at Little Big Horn did have repeating rifles, including Winchesters.

The article even mentioned the Wright Brothers:

But some experts, including Pierre Chao at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, argue that it would be a “strategic mistake” to narrow competition for UAVs.

“If you think it is a young technology, that the Orville and Wilbur Wrights of the 21st century are running around in the UAV marketplace, then as messy as it makes the environment, is it far more strategically important to have lots of players, different patrons behind those players, and to keep stimulating the useful competition of ideas that a useful inter-service rivalry brings.”

To recall history, Orville and Wilbur Wright were banging the door down telling the US Army of the military value of their Flyer, and were largely ignored. The Wrights got more respect in France, and Glenn Curtiss got the attention of the US Navy. If the Orville and Wilbur Wrights of the 21st century got the treatment actually given to Orville and Wilbur Wright in the early 20th century, they would be getting royally screwed.

The military missed "Paris" a few years before the Wrights. James P. Rybak wrote in Popular Electronics, November 1999:

[I]n September of 1898, Tesla startled visitors to the Electrical Exhibition at New York's Madison Square Garden by demonstrating the world's first radio-controlled boat using what he called his "mind-powered" or "Teleautomatic" system. Tesla remotely controlled a 3-foot long iron-clad boat through a variety of maneuvers in front of large audiences every night for a week. To demonstrate its simplicity of operation, Tesla permitted volunteers from the audience to operate the controls. Patent number 613,809 was awarded to Tesla for this invention. His goal was to sell a similar remotely operated submarine to the U.S. Navy for use in the Spanish-American War. Tesla hated war and felt his invention could save lives. The Navy was not interested.

[The original, history-defying, article in FT was by Demetri Sevastopulo.]

In passing, Gatling, Tesla, and the Wrights all thought their inventions could save lives.


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