The next few years are likely to see a new tool added the journalist's armoury - unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Drone journalism already has its own academic department and on Monday a workshop takes place in Oxford organised by the Reuter's Institute for the Study of Journalism. In the next edition of the NUJ magazine The Journalist I'll be looking in detail on how the media plans to use UAVs for news gathering.
For the article I interviewed Lewis Whyld, a photographer with the Press Association, who has built his own UAV. He used it this year to take pictures of flooding. In the full interview below Lewis explains more about how he plans to use his flying camera.
“I've been developing the systems in private for years because I realised the potential for news-gathering and journalism, but people generally thought it was a crazy idea so I kept it quiet.
“I've built some from scratch and some modified from existing airframes. It has taken a few years of experimenting, designing and flying to get a good understanding of which works best for the wide variety of conditions you might find on a story.
“Beyond the airframe you need to design or find a powertrain that will give you the necessary lift. Beyond the powertrain are the electronics, sensors, gyro stabilisers and satellite connections that give you altitude, groundspeed, airspeed, navigational tools, flight stabilisation and autopilot/waypoint functions.
“You will need a radio link from the ground to the UAV for control, which along with the flight time helps determine your range. I also add a live video-link to the ground so I can fly from the point of view of the UAV. To do this you will have to build your own antennas for the frequencies you have selected.
“I record the 'live' view on the ground using a groundstation that I built from scratch that can display all of the in-flight data received from the UAV, including battery voltages, RSSI (signal strength indicator) and GPS position together with the live video feed and altitude, speed etc.
“Placing the items in the UAV requires thought as the centre of gravity (COG) needs to be precise. Different centres result in different flying characteristics, and thus it may be necessary to change the COG depending on the conditions of the story you are covering.
“Using a UAV to film the floods was more of an experiment. It is rare to see UAV footage in difficult weather conditions. As a result I can transfer the techniques to my newer, more stable airframes.
“The need in this country is not as great as it is elsewhere - both in terms of commercial and journalistic uses. My UAVs are primarily designed for use in other countries. I plan on invading the privacy of dictators, despots and human rights abusers who massacre civilians with impunity. Every generation of journalists has a responsibility to use the tools available to them in order to discover and report the truth.
“My UAVs and for use in places where people are being shot in their back-gardens rather than sunbathing. It's as simple as that.”