All posts by Karthik Patanjali

Sports journalism with drones

When I was playing racing video games a good decade back, the thing that amused me was to look at replays of my drive in dramatic camera angles. I always wondered if that would ever become a reality – camera going around the car as it moves. More recently, the spidercam has been used in giving dynamic and interesting views in sporting events like football, rugby, cricket etc. This works perfectly well when the size of the playing field is defined and restricted. What about sporting events that are not?

This got me thinking how drones could help cover events that happen over longer distances – like a marathon, ultra marathon or a cycling tour.  Presently, these events are covered by helicopters or motorcycles riding along to capture the action. This causes noise and air pollution distracting the runners/cyclists from focusing on their goals, not to mention the cost of flying a helicopter over the course. Drones could really take advantage of putting the camera in the air, enhancing viewers’ experience and giving them a good perspective. There could be solar powered drones flying along runners, that would cover the environment and topography in a really dynamic way.

So, my idea – No, I am not planning to shoot the New York City marathon this weekend. I was thinking more like a demo video on how an ultra or a trail run could be covered with drones by shooting a simple 5 mile (trail) run or a race among 3-4 people. Everyone could be given heart rate monitors and GPS watches so that the info could be presented real-time as an overlay when focusing on them. Flying out (zooming out) would really put things in perspective and give an overall feel of the environment. It could even be a single person running in the park and the footage of his run could be presented in an interesting way. Here are some basic sketches of what I had in mind.







Drone feature: It would be great to define a point of interest on a map so that the camera on the flying drone would always face in that direction irrespective of which direction it is facing. Taking this to another level, what if the point of interest is dynamic – like a moving person. It should technically be possible because, the POI could send GPS locations constantly and the drone would be aware of its own position and height in space. It should be possible to calculate roughly the angle in which the camera should face to cover the point of interest.

Is Drone Journalism for Real?

I strongly feel that drone journalism is not very different from internet journalism. 

The ‘journalist’ on the internet, under the aegis of anonymity, speaks freely about what he sees and conveys his opinion in a free manner. That is a moment he detaches himself from the person he is and speaks, rants, and sometimes abuses freely. Similarly, a drone journalist detaches himself from carrying around a camera and lets his extended persona aka ‘the drone’  be his eyes and ears.  I feel that it is a mere tool that is available to an individual to utilize. How one exercises that power is completely based on one’s discretion.

The major common factor between the two is the anonymity aspect. As long as one uses the powers responsibly, the risks will be minimized to a great extent. When benefits outweigh the risks, there is an increased possibility of acceptance and widespread adoption.