You can see the latest experiments from his lab in the clip below. As opposed to Lewis Whyld's UAV, which covered flooded areas in the UK (outlined in my previous post), Waite's team has been looking at droughts in America. Below the clip Prof Waite explains to me in detail how he sees the media using UAVs in the years to come.
Q: What do you hope/plan to have produced for the Knight Foundation come the end of your grant?
A: Several things. First, we want to build, fly and test some UAVs. Just getting some experience and writing about it openly will be very beneficial for journalists trying to evaluate this idea. Right now, I think we've all seen too many movies and have some wild eyed ideas of what's possible. Putting some reality into the discussion will be step one. Second, we're going to write about ethical issues involved, both from a historical perspective and from an in-the-field experience perspective. We think that by using them, we'll think of new questions to ask. Third, we hope to have a legal, ethical and safety framework for journalists who want to use UAVs to do journalism. We want to give journalists tools to make decisions about when and how - and if at all - to use UAVs.
Q: Apart from American news organisations, where else do you see drone journalism advancing quickest? It seems that in some cases NGOs/activists are taking up the possibilities quicker than news outlets.
A: I fully expect others to take it up faster than newsrooms do. News organizations, if I'm being nice, tend to be rather deliberative with these kinds of things. There are laws and rules in place that give business managers and corporate legal counsels pause when it comes to using UAVs — at least currently — so I think activists with less concern about the feelings of authorities will move much quicker than news organizations. But I think you're going the right direction with NGOs. I'd throw in democracy activists and rebel movements too. If you're a Syrian rebel, and you need the world to sympathize with your cause, getting pictures and video and news out of there is important. It's a matter of time before an NGO uses a UAV to photograph human rights abuses and changes the world's opinion about a place.
Q: Would it be accurate to say that drone journalism is a situation where legal (aviation and privacy) codes are struggling to keep pace with corporate/individual innovation?
A: There's no doubt that's the situation. Think about it. Right now, you can go to any mall and buy a quad-copter with a high definition camera mounted on the front of it that only requires an iPhone or Android phone to fly, all for $350. That video can be recorded right on the device and uploaded to the internet in minutes. There are laws that could be brought to bear, but those laws never considered someone with a flying toy capable of taking broadcast quality video.
Q: Setting aside aviation rules, what is the biggest barrier to a freelance photographer/broadcaster aiming to use a drone today?
A: Cost and complexity would be easy answers, but I think the key one people aren't thinking about because we don't have a lot of experience with it is safety. I think people have this idea — based on what we see of military drones in war zones flying for long periods of time seemingly without error — that these things are reliable and safe. They're getting more reliable and they're getting safer, but there's still a substantial risk of a crash every time they take off. If you're a freelance photojournalist, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess you don't have the insurance needed when your photo drone loses an engine and crashes on the head of a protester. A significant amount of research needs to be done on when, where and how these things can be used safely.
Q: In ten years time how would you expect to see drone journalism being used?
A: In 10 years, I think drones for journalism will be boring. I think they'll be like smartphones. They're another tool in the kit. Of course we use UAVs to cover a wildfire. Why wouldn't we? We've been doing it for years. That kind of thinking. I'm really excited about drones for journalism, I think they'll be a very useful tool for a lot of journalists in the very near future, but I think they're just another tool. Drones will not be writing stories. Drones will not find the humanity in a story. Drones will be a tool for journalists to do what they do best: journalism. And that's all that they are. In 10 years, we'll look back at all this fuss about drones and wonder why we were so worked up.