Here come the drones: Hacks/Hackers takes to the skies (not quite yet)

Advances in technology are putting remote-controlled drone aircraft within reach of the average person. How can they be used for journalism?

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  1. Awesome quadricopter to report on an event from the sky. #hackshackers
  2. Journalists are often called on to report on events where a view from above would be useful. And local TV news shows have long had their own eyes in the sky with helicopters reporting on traffic or car chases.  

    With the costs of remote-controlled aircraft dropping, along with smaller cameras and better wireless technology, the idea of using drones for journalism has become an emerging topic among the future of journalism crowd -- and was the hot button issue at the latest Hacks/Hackers Bay Area event Thursday evening at Storify's offices.
  3. Drone copter at Hacks and Hackers at Storify
  4. One of the most well-known remote aircraft is the Parrot AR drone, which has a camera and can be controlled from an iPhone. 
  5. But that's just a novelty, for now, and a small hint of what's to come. The key to the rapidly evolving field is that the technology that had previously been available only to the military is now going open source, meaning anyone can assemble their own devices, said Chris Anderson, the editor in chief of Wired magazine who is also a drone expert and creator of the DIYDrones community.
  6. Still, that doesn't mean progress with the technology will come so fast. Making drones feasible will require advances in materials and batteries, said Tyler Brown, who is working on the Occucopter project. On the software side, drones aren't aware of their environment and can't fly well autonomously, which requires advanced sensors and learning algorithms. Because of the difficulty in flying accurately, drones are involved in frequent crashes and require constant repairs.
  7. One safer option for getting aerial views cheaply and easily for the moment is to simply to use a camera tethered to a weather balloon.
  8. There are many legal issues around drones regarding flying permits and privacy issues, said Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The EFF is suing the FAA to get access to information about who is using drones domestically in the United States, mainly concerned about their use by law enforcement.
  9. Still, the potential for legal approval for more drones could come soon, as Matt Waite of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Waite founded the Drone Journalism Lab -- for now is simply a desk in his office -- to explore the potential use of unmanned aircraft in reporting.
  10. UNL's Drone Journalism Lab: First Drone Flight
  11. The FAA is set to rule on May 14 about expediting licensing for drones.
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