Showing posts with label citizen journalism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label citizen journalism. Show all posts

Friday, February 17, 2012

Update on hunters shooting down activist drone: on-board footage, lawsuits and more

Yesterday I wrote that animal rights activists in Ehrhardt, S.C. who had been attempting to film a hunting event had their drone shot out of the sky. 

Michael Kobliska, an
activist associated with SHARK (SHowing Animals Respect and Kindness), said that the group had been operating its drone for about 18 months before their drone went down near the Broxton Bridge Plantation.

The drone, Mikrokopter Oktokopter, suffered damage to wiring to one of its motors, which caused an electrical fault. This forced the Mikrokopter into a semi-controlled fall, in which it sustained further damage.

In an email, Kobliska said his group was preparing to launch the drone when a sheriff's deputy arrived and threatened to arrest the activists.

He couldn't quote any statutes, but said we would be violating FAA rules and anyone from our group in the area when the machine flew would be detained until the FAA arrived and presumably took us into their custody. We took this as just nonsensical intimidation and decided to fly anyways."

The SHARK activists then proceeded to test-fly their drone. After everything on the drone seemed to be in working order, they took the drone up again for another flight. From Kobliska:

It was a very short flight. The shooters had hidden themselves in the woods and as soon as the machine was up to about 150' they started shooting. It should be noted they were shooting over a roadway, illegal in SC. As we observed later, the machine took a shot to some of the wiring for one of the motors. This caused the machine to lose some thrust, but we could still control it. Since the machine was basically overhead it came back down to where it launched from. It had a hard landing and bent the gear up a bit."

Kobliska said it wasn't the first time their Mikrocopter was shot down.

"About 13 months ago we had another drone shot down in Pennsylvania at another pigeon shoot - that machine is still residing in a tree and is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit. We've also been shot at on other occasions."

Activists posted on-board footage of that incident on Youtube as well, in which activists said that the property owner was told by local law enforcement officials to return the drone. In that video, the activists said the drone cost about $8,000.

Here's footage of the Broxton Bridge Plantation incident, both on-board and from the ground. Beginning at the 2-minute mark, five pops can be heard in the audio, presumably from small-arms fire. One of the microkopter's rotors appears to slow and then stop functioning, at which point the drone enters a semi-controlled descent and impacts the ground.

SHARK activists reported the incident to the Colleton County Sheriff's Office, who filed an incident report for malicious damage to property. A copy of that incident report, provided by Kobliska, is available here. From the incident report:

"The total damage in cost to the craft is around two to three hundred dollars. At the time of the report the plantation gates was closed and locked. I was unable to speak to anyone located at the plantation."

Google Earth view of the approximate site of the Broxton Bridge Plantation, which covers nearly 7,000 acres of hunting grounds.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Drone journalism over anti-ACTA protests in Estonia

More drone journalism of protests, using hexacopters. These images were captured over a protest against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement on Saturday, Feb. 11, in Tartu, Estonia.

According to a post by the hexacopter pilot on, these images were streamed directly to the web from the 'copter.

It was cold in Estonia that day; -15 Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit). But apparently not too cold for organizers to get protestors "jumping for the camera."

A word on safety, from the pilot Jaan Kronberg:

"Yes I know, it wasn't safest thing in the world to do. Yes I know, many will consider it dangerous and irresponsible. But sometimes you just disregard rules and do something insane.. I wasn't "over the heads" for too long, most of the time behind the stage (you can see it on last screenshot), but ... - yes, I know... But it was special day and I took that risk, that's the only excuse."

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Images from Drone Causes Federal Investigation

In what is possibly the first major exposé initiated through drone technology, a small unmanned craft captured evidence of environmental contamination in Texas.

sUAS News reported that a Dallas drone enthusiast was testing a drone, named “Exposure,” when he captured images of what appeared to be a polluted creek near a meat packing plant.

“I was looking at images after the flight that showed a blood red creek and was thinking, could this really be what I think it is?” he told sUAS news. “Can you really do that? Surely not.”

The hobbyist called a Coast Guard 1-800 number, and state environmental investigators reached the creek 40 minutes after the call.

The Environmental Protection Agency, and several state environmental authorities, executed a search warrant at the Columbia Packing Company on January 19.  A criminal investigation is now underway.

The Fox 4 station in Dallas reported that the plant was still operational during the investigation. Field tests from Texas Parks and Wildlife indicated pig blood and toxic chemicals had been dumped in the plant, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Local news outlets seem to have glossed over the fact that the aerial photos which launched the criminal investigation were taken by a drone, and none seem to have tracked down or interviewed the pilot. Additionally, sUAS News declined to publish the drone pilot’s name, citing concerns about the ongoing investigation.

The pilot’s secrecy may stem from a concern about his own safety and well-being after exposing possible criminal activity (potentially involving persons with power and money). But a commenter in the sUAS story also pointed out that this might also be about the hobbyist protecting his pastime – aerial imagery and drone piloting – from scrutiny and harsh regulation.

The reason for his secrecy may be a combination of both those things, or things yet unpublished. All accounts suggest he was a regular RC pilot, without pretense, who simply stumbled on criminal activity near a Dallas meat packing plant. But this shows exactly what drone journalists are aiming for, and demonstrates what is possible when you combine small, inexpensive airframes with imaging equipment.

Drone journalists, news orgs and nonprofits should make a mental note of this event and learn a thing or two from it. A good way to start a systematic investigative report on the local environment would be to take photos of creeks and tributaries near industrial operations.

1) Aerial photo of the contaminated creek, ostensibly taken by the drone pilot, as published by DMN in an online photo gallery.
2) The Exposure airframe, which is capable of carrying a DSLR camera.