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UNL Drone Journalism Lab lifts off with stories on Nebraska’s drought

The Drone Journalism Lab, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln endeavor that we reported received a Knight Prototype grant in June, has published its first drone-assisted stories. Using a small, unmanned aerial vehicle, the lab produced a video (above) and written report on this year’s drought in Nebraska.

“It was fun getting out there and doing actual journalism instead of talking about it,” the lab’s instructor, Matt Waite (right), said an in email interview. “We learned a lot doing it, and we’ve still got a lot to learn. But I think we’ve proven the concept, if it even needed further proving.”

The concept is to use drones as tools for news and public data collection. With new regulations allowing wider use of drones in the U.S. not set to take effect until 2015, the lab abides by the current law – such as flying under 400 feet – to test its concept.

The University of Nebraska’s NIMBUS (Nebraska Intelligent MoBile Unmanned Systems) Lab teamed up with the Drone Journalism Lab, providing it the drone (the model used cost $25,000) and pilot.

Waite said the lab ordered its own gear today,* and as it develops its next story, it also continues to examine the ethics of drone journalism.

Though these first stories proved the concept, Waite said there’s still more work ahead. “Now comes the harder parts of seeing how far the concept can go, and what boundaries there needs to be,” he said.

For more on this story, see the Drone Journalism Lab blog: “How we used a drone to cover drought“.

*Update: Following the publishing of this story, Waite provided an update that the Drone Journalism Lab ordered five drones: SkyHawk FPVArduCopter QuadjD-Simplex Hexa Multicopter and two Remote Control Quad-copters.


Credits: Video from Drone Journalism Lab on YouTube. Matt Waite photo from unl.edu.

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