Monday, November 11, 2013

All I Want for Christmas is … a News Drone

It’s right there on Amazon and you can buy it just in time for Santa to deliver it in his reindeer-powered drone (I think).  It is in fact a drone, but not just any drone.

This one is the DJI Phantom Aerial UAV Drone Quadcopter for GoPro, to be exact.  In the interest of full disclosure, the product and the company are not a client.  I first learned of this from a Twitter post I received a few days ago when a journalism professor from Syracuse University had posted a photo of this interesting little four-prop device that could serve as a catalyst for newsgathering of the future.

Dan Pacheco is the Peter A. Horvitz Chair in Journalism Innovation at the S.I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University, but enough of the formalities. 

Dan posted to Twitter a photo of a drone with a camera mounted on it with the caption: “Hmm, I wonder where our new dji Phantom with GoPro mount will fly on this rainy day?”

The question and the photo certainly got my attention. I haven’t really thought about the use of drone technology for other than military or law enforcement applications. 

But this is for personal/private use and it’s the real thing.  And the fact that it can be used with a camera mount for newsgathering opens the door to a million possibilities.

According to the drone’s descriptor on Amazon, it arrives “ready to fly.”  All you need to do is unpack it, attach the propellers, charge the “LiPo” (I’m assuming that’s a power source) and install the transmitter batteries.  I’m also guessing that however you’d like to outfit you’re drone, that’s on you as well.  So if you want to mount a camera, you have to purchase a compatible device and install that. 

Thanks to some recent news features, I’ve seen how these types of drones operate. They aren’t toys.  They tend to fly very stable and agile.  I’m not sure about this one, but they can be disarmingly quiet.  Each of these features make drones highly efficient tools for surveillance and information-gathering.

Just thinking about the drone and its potential took me back to my own early reporting days in and how such technology might have changed the way we covered news. 

Once I hid behind a patrol car as the police negotiated with a hostage-taker in a residential neighborhood.  If I had a drone, I could have flown the thing over the house or even near the house to see what was going on, though I’m sure the police commander would have had something to say about that.

Then I thought about my role as a PR person.  How will a drone affect my work in PR?

No doubt, I would have to take into account that news reporters could and would gain access to places we’d prefer they not, such as near power wires, and plant and company employees, to name a few.  Would we be within our rights to “take down” the drone if it flies into our private space?  I don’t know.  I do know that such acts of surveillance and retaliation would not come without significant controversy.

What about our own use as PR professionals?  Can we use drones to access areas that before may have been logistically impossible to access?  I would think drone technology would come in handy for capturing visuals of everything from a complex or vast manufacturing process to a store grand opening.

WATCH: First time students fly newsgathering drone prototype October 4, 2013 in Syracuse University's Manley Field House.

Dan Pacheco first started using drones on campus almost a year ago.  His purpose was to experiment with aerial footage for journalism.  Of course this is not without its challenges.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered a couple of state-funded journalism schools to shut down outdoor use of drones. So Syracuse uses its indoor athletic facilities to serve as laboratories for drone navigation.

From a timing standpoint, the FAA is supposed to issue a method to certify commercial drone flights by September 30, 2015. 

My apologies in advance for this (pun intended), but clearly when it comes to newsgathering drones and the possibilities, the sky’s the limit.

No comments:

Post a Comment