We’ve all read stories about how remote control drones have been used in war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Some of us may even know that Barack Obama has doubled the number of drones attacks, resulting in between 1 492 and 2 378 deaths between 2004 and 2011. Obviously drones are incredibly efficient when it comes to automated warfare, but what if we used them for journalism?
Good news! You can buy one for about 300 Euro. The AR-Drone is a quadricopter, a chopper with four engines, running on batteries 14.5 Watts per engine, good for a flight of about 10 minutes. It has two build in cameras: 720p HD Camera 30fps and a vertical 92 degrees wide angle camera..
The heart of the machine is a 1Ghz 32bit ARM processor with 1Gbit DDR2 RAM, running software that controls the drone. The quadricopter has a Wi-Fi connection to your laptop (also Linux), tablet or smart phone working on a distance of about 50 metres and six metres height. The special software on your device turns you into the pilot. Oh, you want be a wing commander and fly a swarm of drones? Check out this stunning video of someone doing just that.
An AR drone may be an expensive tool to send near a burning building but a month ago there was a fire in one of the canal houses in Amsterdam Central. Of course every access was blocked, but imagine if a reporter could’ve a drone above the blaze and get the story. Now we are in drone-reporting! Or take a demonstration, the crowd’s moving forward to the lines of riot police…. Start up the drone, and you can film from a place of safety.
Here is a video from Robokopter Zamieszki I, reporting about a confrontation in Warsaw between far-right Polish nationalists celebrating the country’s independence day and left-wing anarchists from Germany. In the US, The Daily also used the method to show the breadth of damage inflicted by the Tuscaloosa tornado. Imagining other possibilities is not difficult: think about nuclear disasters such as the Fukushima-Daachii plant in Japan, or what you could do reporting from a war zone like Syria or the Gaza strip.
Drones are an interesting platform for journalism: the journalist’s eyes in the air. In the US, journalism professor Matt Waite started the Drone Journalism Lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to study the legality, ethically and practicality of drones in journalism. Important! When journalists are flying drones, how about the paparazzi, watching royal families or other celebrities in their private holiday resorts? Or the police, when Big Brother is taking up in the sky to watch us all, we should be careful. Here is the code of ethics to start with.