News, pictures and videos of developments on DroneJournalism.org and elsewhere.
Every year, Quill
, the national magazine for the Society of Professional Journalists, produces one issue on journalism ethics.
As David Wolfgang, a PhD student in Journalism at the University of Missouri, reports in the ethics issue cover story
, there's many ideas floating around how to handle difficult ethical questions presented by unmanned aircraft:Privacy laws differ from state to state, but the basic rule is that an
individual cannot use technology to peer into a place where a person has
a “reasonable expectation of privacy” — where that person should feel
safe in letting their guard down and not expect to be recorded. The more
private the location — like a person’s private home — the more
reasonable it is for a person to feel secure in the location.
It appears from the story that there's a consensus about the need to maintain existing ethical expectations for journalists, but views differ about whether unmanned aircraft, commonly called "drones," re-write or generate any additional rules.
Regulation is another area where opinion tends to diverge. Tight regulation could appease populist outcry against domestic use of this new technology, but it would restrict the reporter's ability to collect important information. Exactly where to draw the line is being discussed in more than two dozen states who are producing drone legislation, even though it seems the FAA will have the final say when they produce integration rules (expected in 2015).
While our current code of ethics does mention the need to work around regulation "in instances where journalists are unfairly blocked
from using drones to provide critical information in accordance with
their duties as members of the fourth estate,
" it's imperative to note that many of these integration rules are dealing with safety
One of the two items more important than regulation in the drone journalism ethics pyramid is safety
. In other words, putting the public in danger so you can deploy an unmanned aircraft for a story is unethical
Now is a great time to be a Ball State student who's interested in getting hands-on experience with a "drone." A new course featuring unmanned aircraft systems will be introduced at Ball State University in Fall 2013, with an emphasis on how the device can be used to enhance digital storytelling.
According to an email from Ball State's Tim Underhill, the course will include discussion on legal and ethical issues and aesthetic best practices.
The seminar is particularly notable because while it is categorized as a telecommunications course, professor Tim Pollard (pictured) is inviting graduate students from any discipline. Part of the discussion will include applications in non-media sectors, such as agriculture and resource management. Basic photography or videography skills are a necessary prerequisite, however.
And yes, students will be able to fly an unmanned aircraft.
The course is a semester away, but it's been making local news. Indiana News Center has a story about
the privacy and regulatory concerns, along with the benefits, of UAS technology, which features interviews with Underhill and Pollard.
A flier advertising the course, which is attached to this post, mentions the negative connotations attached to the word "drone," and refers to the devices as UAS throughout. This is consistent with FAA and industry practice, which identifies these aircraft, whether they be semi autonomous or totally controlled from an iPad, as unmanned aircraft systems.
What he stumbles upon is that the swooping, zooming, and drifting capabilities of these aircraft are making for a cinematic experience that was hitherto unobtainable.
"Some of these shots could have been taken with a helicopter, albeit at
much greater expense," Hermann writes. "Many, though, are either too close to the ground,
taken in tight spaces, or filmed indoors."
Number 7, by Canadian-based firm SkyMotion Video
is my favorite on this list. There's even more eye candy on their website, including some skillful deployment during a Canadian NASCAR event
, where the UAS is able to trail cars from the track from a couple hundred feed, and still swoop down to follow cars in the pit lanes.
The list is impressive, and it's interesting to note the number of companies and people who have been able to earn the skills to shoot these high-quality videos, well before official UAS integration by the FAA.
I'm pleased to announce the roster at DroneJournalism.org continues to grow. We now have 31 members in 6 countries. The latest additions include a broadcast engineer, a station general manager, and a technical services manager for an Australian university who has 20 years experience in the news industry.
- David Beesly is the Technical Services Manager with the School of Media & Communication at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. The School encompasses programs including journalism, advertising, film & TV production etc. In addition, David is an award winning documentary film maker, and has been working in the media industry for over 20 years. He owns a Parrot AR Drone 2.0, and led RMIT to adopt Parrot drones specifically for use by the School's Journalism department. Beesley is very keen for emerging journalism and media students to start exploring the myriad of possibilities that are being created by the introduction of these new and exciting technologies into the media arena.
- Geoffrey Roth is the Executive Producer at KRIV, the Fox owned-and-operated station in Houston, TX. He is part of a working group exploring the use of drones and quadcopters in news gathering.
- Robert Crawford is an engineer with the 24-hour cable news channel News14 in North Carolina. Crawford has years of experience as an RC hobbyist and is interested in using those skills for television news.
- Ken Freedman is general manager of KWQC, the market-leading TV news station in western Illinois and Eastern Iowa. KWQC covers news in both urban and rural areas where drone journalism might compliment storytelling.
- Sean O'Hara is a nascent sUAS operator with aim at cinematography applications who has realized the vast opportunities for 'footage gathering' while building a personal portfolio. He purchased an entry-level system in January 2013 and has been flying as often as the weather allows.
Membership remains open for those with an interest in integrating unmanned aircraft systems, commonly known as drones or UAVs, to enhance journalism and news reporting. An online application can be found in the membership section.
There's no membership fee at this time, and membership includes a subscription to the DroneJournalism.org monthly email newsletter. May's newsletter should be sent out in several days.
For a while now, I've been meaning to write about the work of Mike Levin, a 30-year veteran of photojournalism. Fifteen years of that time was spent with the Philadelphia Inquirer
, as an imaging specialist, equipment manager, systems editor and more. He was instrumental in transitioning the paper to the digital era.
As a younger man, Levin raced cars and flew model airplanes. In an email, he wrote that he gets a kick out of pushing equipment to its limits. That's exactly what he did with his first multirotor -- an AR Drone 2.0 -- when he overloaded it with a heavier camera.
"A deer probably ate it by now," he said.
Currently he's piloting a DJI Phantom, which is equipped with a GoPro 3 HD video camera and the NAZA flight controller. While it's essentially plug-and-play out of the box, Levin noted that there's much more to actually using the tool successfully.
For one, it's essential to know what the LED lights are indicating about a GPS lock at any given time. And pilots shouldn't become too complacent with GPS assist, because the Phantom could loose a satellite fix during flight, especially in urban environments with tall buildings. Learning to fly the quadrotor without the aid of a GPS, in attitude mode, is a must.
"But I can't stress enough," Levin wrote, "You really need to be able to fly with
confidence in Attitude mode. This way when something goes crazy with the
communication from the transmitter, you can have full control and not
crash into something or someone."
Even if the GPS does function as needed, the results can be unexpected. The Phantom, like all GPS-guided drones, will apply small corrections throughout flight to keep the aircraft in a fixed position. Those corrections can make for jittery video. Levin advises that attitude mode must be mastered for the absolute best video and images.
And about that camera -- it could potentially interfere with the GPS signal, the internal magnetometer, or both, which could cause a fly-away. Levin warned that all pilots put contact information inside their drone in case of such an event. When his GoPro 3 HD interfered with the NAZA GPS, his Phantom flew for more than a mile before coming down.
Finally, always pick an open, unpopulated area to earn your drone "wings."
"I try to use my local park that has a mix of open terrain and obstacles to try and navigate around," Levin wrote. "This way I can practice my piloting skills under a variety of conditions. The main thing is to be on the watch for errant people showing up."
"Don't want to really fly over them too closely, and somebody will always try and bother you while you are concentrating on not crashing. And don't get too excited about going really high and/or far. The unit has to get back home."
Above are some sample videos of Levin's experiments with the DJI Phantom.
Everyone can now relax. The multirotor lodged in the statue atop the Marion County Courthouse in Ohio has been freed.
For little over a week, video producer Terry Cline had been trying to retrieve his DJI Phantom quadrotor from the clutches of the Lady Justice statute atop the courthouse. While piloting his aircraft for a pro bono project to promote the the town, the quadrotor drifted into the statue.
According to the Marion Star
, a pair of local contractors were able to snag the drone with an extension pole.
County Commissioners were unsympathetic to Cline's plight, and declined to dispatch resources. The local paper reported getting letters "from coast to coast" with ideas for freeing the small aircraft.
The paper reports that except for some slight rotor damage, the drone is quite functional. The Marion Star
has posted on-board video of the aircraft wandering into the statue.
Would-be "drone" pilots expecting for rules on how to integrate their unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into national airspace will have to wait a bit longer.
In a report on significant rulemaking by the US Department of Transportation, the agency that controls the nation's skies wrote that rules on the "operation and certification of small unmanned aircraft systems" will now be submitted on July 1. That's almost five months longer than the date originally projected by DOT, which was Feb. 3.
The rules would be submitted to the Office of Management and Budget on that date. DOT projects that the rules finally would be published in the Federal Register on Oct. 17.
DOT wrote that the delay was caused by "unanticipated issues requiring further analysis."
According to the re-authorization act that funds the FAA, the comprehensive integration plan was due by Feb. 14. On Aug. 14, 2014,
"The Secretary must issue a notice of proposed rulemaking to implement the recommendations of the comprehensive plan."
According to the abstract published in the report, the rulemaking would:"...adopt specific rules for the operation of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) in the national airspace system. These changes would address the classification of small unmanned aircraft, certification of their pilots and visual observers, registration, approval of operations, and operational limits in order to increase the safety and efficiency of the national airspace system. The rulemaking would result in regular collection of safety data from the user community and aid the FAA in assessing effectiveness of regulations to expand sUAS access to the national airspace system."
The report is published on a monthly basis. The April 2013 copy is available for review on the DOT website.
Tip of the hat to sUASNews.com
and the Helicopter Association International's Rotor News
I'm pleased to announce the addition of two more experienced journalists to the DroneJournalism.org roster. Their communities are about 7,000 miles apart, but their experience and skill sets make them tremendously valuable to deploying unmanned aircraft systems in reporting.
Together, they represent 43 years of reporting experience:
Mike Levin has 30 years of photography and video experience, including 15 years of experience as a staff digital imaging specialist, photographer and more recently, videographer with the Philadelphia Inquirer. He also was an equipment manager and systems editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer’s photo department.
Levin’s first assignment in 1993 was to spearhead the Philadelphia Inquirer’s migration from film to digital technology, and provided training for reporters to shoot and edit video. He was instrumental in establishing video encoding standards for the Inquirer and Philly.com websites as they moved to a new video delivery platform.
Five years ago, Levin first became intreagued with the concept of providing a “Google Maps” view of events happening around the corner, but was discouraged by the cost of aircraft systems of the day. He now flies a mid-range multirotor system, which provides a perspective that previously could only be obtained with very expensive gear.
Charles Masayanyika is a Tanzanian digital freelance journalist working with IPP-Media, with more than 13 years of television and radio experience.
His work includes covering the Tanzania presidential campaigns of 2000, 2005 and 2010, and reporting on mining, rural developments, poverty, environment, health issues, famine, and sports events such as the Tanzania Super League and the SADC Castle Cup for soccer in 2000 and 2001.
We're now up to 27 members on DroneJournalism.org, and we continue to accept membership free of charge. For more information, visit our membership page
Benefits include access to a network of other people spearheading work into "drone journalism," and a members-only newsletter to keep up-to-date on the latest information about the field. Our first newsletter was sent out at the beginning of the month. More info on that will be published in this blog.
If last week's FAA "online public engagement" session was any indication, you can never quite tell what people are going to say
about unmanned aircraft and drones.
Obviously there are major concerns, some of them justified, about unmanned aircraft and privacy. The answer is not to hide from these questions, or avoid interviews.
Many journalists know the quote by U.S..Supreme Court Justice Lewis Brandies that goes "Sunlight is the best disinfectant." An equal number of journalists use that quote as a guiding principle for their work. In that spirit, journalists looking to deploy "drones" in reporting should engage the public at every opportunity and give them a proper introduction to the technology.
Thursday, April 4, I was joined by Chris Anderson of 3DRobotics (a company which provides aerial robotics components, some of which I use for drone journalism and STEM education), and Nancy Cooke, Science Director of the Cognitive Engineering Research Institute in Mesa, Arizona, for a call-in radio program about unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) on the NPR affiliate WILL.
We covered a wide range of topics, from the basics of "what is a drone?," to the many applications for UAS, including STEM education, cargo transport, and journalism. Most of the questions from our callers involved privacy, so a lot of discussion happened around laws and regulations.
WILL's website includes an MP3 of that radio program, along with a video interview that producer Lindsey Moon put together. The video includes an introduction to the AR.Drone 2.0 quadcopter, which I flew around WILL studios to demonstrate how it hovers and records video.Originally posted in a slightly different version on sUASNews.com.