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"The point sticks in your head: physics rules. Virtue does not triumph unless the physics allows it."
- Larry Niven

Raytron Apparatus  
  A device for aerial surveillance; the image was transmitted back to the user.  

As far as I know, the first instance of aerial military surveillance resulting in improved firing accuracy of distant weapons occured on September 24, 1861. A military balloon ascended to more than 1,000 feet near Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, DC, and began telegraphing intelligence on the Confederate troops located at Falls Church, Virginia, three miles away. Union guns were thus aimed and fired accurately at the Confederate troops without actually being able to see them.

But there must be a better way.

Then Sonya prepared an image-finder. She connected the batteries, the projector, and the grid of glowing wires.

Alice and Dolores held the grid between them. Sonya fired the small projectile. It sailed off, a whirling pink ball. It was in reality a small, flat disk with a lenslike eye and a whirling, pink, glowing armature on top.

Over a radius of several miles Sonya's raytron apparatus could direct its flight, and back over the invisible connecting ray came an image of all that the lens eye saw.

The pink ball of light sailed ahead and soon was lost to view. The gird of wires which Alice and Dolores held glowed pink...

Upon it, etched in black, was a moving scene: mountains, crags, valleys, moving in slow panorama, valleys all pale and empty in the starlight.

Alice cried, "Sonya... lights! We see them now!"

Sonya's apparatus marked the position of the pink ball.

Technovelgy from Beyond the Stars, by Ray Cummings.
Published by Ace in 1928
Additional resources -

Even more interesting, it appears that the device also allowed the user to pinpoint the position on the grid, as well as showing the surveillance video.

Compare to the scarab robot flying insect from The Scarab (1936) by Raymond Z. Gallun ,the artificial eye drone from Glimpse (1938) by Manly Wade Wellman, eyes from This Moment of the Storm (1966) by Roger Zelazny, the Ultraminiature Spy-Circuit from The Unknown (1972) by Christopher Anvil, copseyes from Cloak of Anarchy (1972) by Larry Niven, the sky ball from A Day For Damnation (1985) by David Gerrold, the drone floater camera from Runaway (1985) by Michael Crichton, the aerostat monitor from The Diamond Age (1995) by Neal Stephenson, the loiter drone from The Algebraist (2004) by Iain Banks and the bee cam from City of Pearl (2004) by Karen Traviss.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Beyond the Stars
  More Ideas and Technology by Ray Cummings
  Tech news articles related to Beyond the Stars
  Tech news articles related to works by Ray Cummings

Raytron Apparatus-related news articles:
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  - First Person Video Flying Parrot Bebop Drone Video
  - DARPA Video Highlights Fast Lightweight Autonomy Drones

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