Thursday, March 28, 2013

Seven more reasons why journalists should learn to fly unmanned aircraft

Felix Gillette at Bloomberg Businessweek has come up with a list of seven reasons why journalists, and not just "cubs reporters," should be learning to use unmanned aircraft systems -- usually called "drones" in the media.

Here's seven more reasons why journalists should consider UAS.

1) They give all news outlets and journalists the freedom to cover important events from the sky.

Traffic snarls? Done. Spot news? Got it. Weather reports? Sure thing. Aerial view of Nasa’s latest space telescope at South By Southwest? Absolutely.

These are all events that could be covered before by large, expensive news helicopters. Of course, only stations in the largest of markets could afford such a luxury. But thanks to inexpensive, small unmanned aircraft, that is no longer the case.

Ted Pretty, a meteorologist for a Fox station in Las Vegas, was one of our first members at While his station couldn't buy a helicopter, it did have the wherewithal and foresight to send him to an online UAV school. He's now experimenting with a multirotor system, and uploaded some of the results on YouTube.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Capturing the blizzard of March 2013 with time lapse video

A storm that came late in the season, the March 2013 blizzard (dubbed "Virgil" by the folks at the Weather Channel) caught many off guard in central Illinois.

In the Champaign-Urbana area, local schools cancelled class first. Then, the community college.

And at about 9 pm, the University sent out a mass email, warning UIUC spring breakers not to attempt the drive back to campus. Finally, at about 1:30 am, Illinois officially cancelled classes.

When it finished here in Urbana, Ill., the storm dropped more than 11 inches, breaking the previous March 24 snow record. In my hometown of Springfield, it dropped 18.5", beating a single-storm record that persisted for 113 years.

Snow began falling at about 2:30 pm on March 24. As soon as the snow began to fall, I started building a time-lapse setup, and took my first pictures at 2:38.

While I've detailed here before how to make a time-lapse camera, those previous designs were battery-powered, and had a life span of 12 hours. Like the previous build, this used a camera presupposed from an unmanned aircraft system.  But the forecast called for a snow that could last up to 20 hours, so I designed this setup to run on AC power instead.

As it turns out, it's much less complicated to run a time lapse camera on AC power. No battery calculations are necessary. All that's required is the camera, the camera housing, an AC extension cord, a USB cable, and an AC to USB adapter.

Time-lapse weather camera at 2:39 pm on Sunday, March 24.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

"Drone" over SXSW provides aerial view of NASA's shiny new space telescope

Unmanned aircraft made their South By Southwest debut this year, and prominently so. A session with Chris Anderson, former Wired EIC turned full-time head of 3D Robotics, and Ryan Calo of The Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, among others, included a discussion on the many commercial uses for UA.

On the same day, at the Palmer Events Center, near a full-scale replica of NASA's James Web Space Telescope, another panel was being held that featured a live demonstration of an unmanned system.

Monday, March 4, 2013

A map of all the drone laws in the United States.

The ACLU recently published on its technology blog a list of 28 states that are pursuing regulations for unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS. They're more commonly referred to as "drones," and in fact many of the proposed laws use that exact word.

I dug further to find out what lawmakers are actually proposing. You may click on individual states in the above map to learn more about specific legislation.

Out of the 28 states, 14 are proposing limitations only to law enforcement. In most cases, proposed legislation would make it illegal for law enforcement to use an unmanned aircraft without a warrant.

Some also call for evidence obtained from a "drone" to be destroyed after a specified period. A few ban any government entities from using the technology altogether.