Picture 2012: An Israeli Drone at a Swiss Air Base

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We're looking back at the photos that defined the sociotechnical changes of the year.

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An Israel Aero Space Industries (IAI) Heron 1 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) stands on the tarmac during a media presentation at the airbase in the central Swiss town of Emmen September 20, 2012 (Reuters).

For the last five years, the American drone fleet has been growing. The military now has more than 7,500 unmanned aerial vehicles, including everything from tiny, hand-launched Ravens to large, armed Predators. Then there's all the CIA and Homeland Security drones.

But in 2012, we began to see what should be obvious: the drone business will be global. While drone strikes are an American strategy now, these machines are relatively cheap and will only get more so. As we've said before, everyone who wants a drone will have one of some kind.

Most specifically, drones are not like nuclear weapons with a few countries controlling the resources to create them. No, the technologies for dronemaking will be widely distributed. Israel, a long-time manufacturer of UAVs, has beefed up its exports. Azerbaijan, for example, cut a $1.4 billion arms deal with Israel in February; dozens of drones were included in the package. Expect more and more alliances like this as these robots spread out across the globe.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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