Links, thoughts and research into using drones, UAVs or remotely piloted vehicles for journalism at the Drone Journalism Lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's College of Journalism and Mass Communications.
April 6, 2012 at 11:20am
Journalists, write this date down: May 14, 2012
Under the FAA Modernization and and Reform Act of 2012, the FAA must expedite giving public agencies permits to fly UAVs under specific conditions by May 14, 2012. That’s just a little more than a month from now. In government terms, that’s really, really fast.
Do you cover a law enforcement agency? If I did, I’d start asking around now. Warm up the public records requests. Is your local law enforcement agency applying for an expedited permit? What are their plans? How much did they spend on their drone? Do they plan on using it for law enforcement right away? What assurances can they give to keep the public safe from mishaps? What rules are they going to use to govern themselves? These are all major unanswered questions, and law enforcement agencies and other public bodies appear to be the first to face them in real world conditions.
Here’s the specific sections of the law that require the FAA to expedite public agency permits and the rules they have to fly under, which are very, very similar to the rules that remote control hobbyists fly under now.
SEC. 334. PUBLIC UNMANNED AIRCRAFT SYSTEMS.
(c) AGREEMENTS WITH GOVERNMENT AGENCIES.—
(1) IN GENERAL.—Not later than 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall enter into agreements with appropriate government agencies to simplify the process for issuing certificates of waiver or authorization with respect to applications seeking authorization to operate public unmanned aircraft systems in the national airspace system.
(2) CONTENTS.—The agreements shall—
(A) with respect to an application described in paragraph (1)—
(i) provide for an expedited review of the application;
(ii) require a decision by the Administrator on approval or disapproval within 60 business days of the date of submission of the application; and
(iii) allow for an expedited appeal if the application is disapproved;
(B) allow for a one-time approval of similar operations carried out during a fixed period of time; and
(C) allow a government public safety agency to operate unmanned aircraft weighing 4.4 pounds or less, if operated—
(i) within the line of sight of the operator;
(ii) less than 400 feet above the ground;
(iii) during daylight conditions;
(iv) within Class G airspace; and
(v) outside of 5 statute miles from any airport, heliport, seaplane base, spaceport, or other location with aviation activities.
From the CDT’s timeline, here’s a list of what I see as the big dates for using drones for journalism.
May 14, 2012: Expedite the licensure of government drones
The Secretary of Transportation must expedite the licensure of government-owned drones. The rules for this expedited licensure for the government will be similar to what RC pilots use now (operator has to be able to see the UAV, they have to fly it under 400 feet and during daylight conditions). Journalists across the country should check and see if your local law enforcement is applying for licenses and then follow how your law enforcement agencies are using them.
Aug. 12, 2012: Early integration of “safe” drones
The DOT must determine if certain types of drones (government and non-government) can operate in the national airspace before completion of the required planning and rulemaking that the FAA law requires. They have to look at if the drone can operate safely and not harm national security. The DOT has to develop rules to make this happen, but there’s no deadline set for them.
Feb. 14, 2013: Deadline for the comprehensive plan
The Secretary of the DOT must submit the final version of the comprehensive plan to Congress. It must also include a 5-year roadmap that gets updated annually.
Aug. 14, 2014: Final rule for non-government drones and implementation of the comprehensive plan
This is the deadline for the final rule to allow non-governmental drones into the airspace. The DOT must also issue it’s plan to implement the comprehensive plan above.
Sept. 30, 2015: Integration of non-government drones
This is the deadline in the law for non-governmental drones to be added to the national airspace.
December 2, 2011 at 11:10am
What is drone journalism?
With the FAA set to open the nation’s airways to civilian unmanned aircraft, the potential uses for drones outside of the military are starting to open up. And that raises a question: Could you do journalism from a drone?
That’s a question we want to try and answer at the Drone Journalism Lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications. We’ve just started the lab and will have our first drone to start testing soon.
So what is drone journalism? Here’s a first crack at trying to define it: Drone journalism is the use of unmanned aircraft to gather photos, video and data for reporting. Between inexpensive RC aircraft with high-definition video cameras mounted to them to sophisticated autonomous aircraft with high-resolution imaging hardware onboard, the applications for reporting on disasters, mass protests and other news events with a large geographic extent are wide open.
You’re already starting to see applications. In Poland, a man mounted a camera to a RC helicopter and gathered images of a protest.
But there’s more. Imagine the reporting potential of more sophisticated platforms like the Gatewing X100.
“The design of many UASs makes them difficult to see and adequate “detect, sense and avoid” technology is years away. Decisions being made about UAS airworthiness and operational requirements must fully address safety implications of UASs flying in the same airspace as manned aircraft, and perhaps more importantly, aircraft with passengers.”
And the response to the FAA opening the airways to drones starts here. Note the comments as well. If drones are to be a tool for journalists, they’re going to have to answer questions and criticisms like these.
The Federal Aviation Administration will propose rules for civilian drone use in January, opening the door for drone use outside of the military. But questions ranging from detection and avoidance technology to privacy concerns are all still open.