With the FAA set to open the nation’s airways to civilian unmanned aircraft, the potential uses for drones outside of the military are starting to open up. And that raises a question: Could you do journalism from a drone?
That’s a question we want to try and answer at the Drone Journalism Lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications. We’ve just started the lab and will have our first drone to start testing soon.
So what is drone journalism? Here’s a first crack at trying to define it: Drone journalism is the use of unmanned aircraft to gather photos, video and data for reporting. Between inexpensive RC aircraft with high-definition video cameras mounted to them to sophisticated autonomous aircraft with high-resolution imaging hardware onboard, the applications for reporting on disasters, mass protests and other news events with a large geographic extent are wide open.
You’re already starting to see applications. In Poland, a man mounted a camera to a RC helicopter and gathered images of a protest.
The College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln established the Drone Journalism Lab in November 2011 as part of a broad digital journalism and innovation strategy. Journalism is evolving rapidly, and journalism education must evolve with it, teaching new tools and storytelling strategies while remaining true to the core principles and ethics of journalism. The lab was started by Professor Matt Waite as a way to explore how drones could be used for reporting.
In the lab, students and faculty will build drone platforms, use them in the field and research the ethical, legal and regulatory issues involved in using pilotless aircraft to do journalism.
Journalists are increasingly faced with two problems: a growing appetite for unique online video in an environment of decreased budgets; and restricted or obstructed access to stories ranging from disaster coverage to Occupy Wall Street protests. The technology behind autonomous and remotely piloted vehicles is rapidly moving from military applications to the point where private citizens can own and operate their own drone. At the same time, high definition and 3D video cameras are getting smaller, cheaper and lighter. Paired with global position devices, they make ideal additions to an airborne platform.
In short, drones are an ideal platform for journalism.
Chris Anderson is the editor in chief of WIRED Magazine and is co-founder of DIY drones a very successful open-source hardware company.