How a German engineer pioneered aerial photography

German engineer Alfred Maul received his patent entitled “Rocket Camera for Taking Pictures” on April 19, 1904. Although Maul did not gain much from these ideas, he was surely at the forefront of photography. Aerial. Join ASGanesh as he tells you more about Maul and his attempts to click pictures of the sky …

Stunning images like this that show a bird’s eye view of an area on the surface of the Earth are so common these days that we barely stop to think about how they are made. The advent of drones has led to a proliferation of images such as aerial photography has become more accessible than ever.

The technique of photographing the Earth’s surface, or even the characteristics of its atmosphere and hydrosphere, using cameras mounted on rockets, airplanes, satellites orbiting the Earth or any other spacecraft in general, is known as aerial photography. Although the growth of aerial photography was accelerated after its application to military reconnaissance and intelligence gathering was identified, it spread to many other areas as well.

Terrestrial mapping

Mapping remains an important use of aerial photography as terrestrial features can be captured well using this method. Through satellite technology and expert interpretation, aerial photography has made available crucial data on topography, geology, hydrology, soil, vegetation, ocean currents, resources fisheries and many other areas.

A little-known German engineer named Alfred Maul played his part in the growth of aerial photography. Through his experiments in rocket photography in the early 20th century, Maul pioneered aerial reconnaissance.

Born to a merchant and his wife in 1870, Maul attended community schools in Poessneck and Dresden before graduating from the Dresden Conservatory. Besides being gifted in music and an excellent pianist, Maul proved to be a professional engineer after studying at the Reichenberg School of Engineering (now Liberec).

Multidisciplinary Maul

Even though he was registered as a civil engineer in the Dresden Address Register, Maul became interested in various fields with considerable success. The fact that he has obtained more than 20 patents in mechanical engineering and that he has made a significant contribution to aerial photography is testament to this.

Maul was drawn to the theoretical aspects of building a rocket device to aid aerial photography around 1900. He began his first tests in 1901 and was quickly faced with several obstacles – the parachute did not operate a lot. times the rocket exploded in another case, the camera shutter did not fire at times, and there were other times when it did fire at the wrong time.

Photos taken sideways

Maul ticked off each of these complications one by one from his list as he continued to experiment to further improve his device. Although the idea of ​​taking such photos is not new, Maul was able to come up with an invention in which the photograph could be taken from the side or from the side of the instrument and not vertically or under the camera. This had particular advantages as the photo could be clicked during stable flight and therefore was less blurry, and the camera could also be aimed at specific terrains.

Maul applied for its patent in the United States with the title “Rocket Camera for Photographing” in 1903 and was granted on April 19, 1904. The camera’s primary use had been for military reconnaissance, and in offering demonstrations, Maul was able to find takers for his invention.

Aircraft have priority

It is believed that Maul experimented with these ideas from 1901 to 1912 without any evidence of having worked on them after that time. The timing could not have been worse because by the time WWI made its way in 1914, the aircraft became the vehicle of choice for aerial reconnaissance.

Although Maul earned little for his efforts, his invention was among the earliest instrumented rockets, and with hindsight can be seen as a milestone in aerial photography. Thanks to Maul and the many others who followed, the technology in this area has advanced so rapidly over the next 100 or so years, providing us with stunning visuals of the Earth’s surface.


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