Monthly Archives: February 2014

I spent the day with TK and Daniel programming AR drones. We used Node.js and the nodecopter libraries node-ar-drone and ardrone-autonomy. Check out their github repositories here: node-ar-drone , ardrone-autonomy

First here is a step by step order of operations in case you want to follow along:
-Get Parrot AR Drone.
-Download Node.js
-In Terminal, enter the command: npm install ar-drone
-In a text editor (e.g. sublime text), write your code! Code examples and be found at or try the example come below.
-Save your text file as flight.js or a name you prefer to your desktop or another location of your choice. Remember the name and location of the file.
-In Terminal, write the command: cd desktop (or where you put your file) and hit enter.
-In Terminal, write the command: node flight.js (or the name your chose to give to your file) and hit enter.
-Your AR Drone should do whatever your program instructed it to do!

Here is an example of a simple program that we used to pilot our drone:

Here is what that same code looks like in behavior:

Drone flight from lifeonhoth on Vimeo.

Using Nodecopter for the First Time

Here is the successful code that I was able to come up with:

var arDrone = require('ar-drone');
var client = arDrone.createClient();


.after(5000, function() {
.after(5000, function() {
this.animateLeds(‘blinkRed’, 5, 2);
.after(2000, function() {
this.animate(‘vzDance’, 2000)
.after(10000, function() {

Turnaround, Blink and Dance!

Our code…

My team and I tried multiple instructions. It is not as intuitive as I though it would be. I think someone from my team will post the code , so I’m posting  one we also tried during the class.

Captura de pantalla 2014-02-10 a la(s) 10.55.48 AM

This code instructed the drone to turn on the lights snake-like (I guess). The drone moved too much and was hard to notice the movements of the lights; I was expecting it would hover in place.

We had better luck with the following command, which instructed the drone to take off, (we canceled the clockwise movement), then fly upwards at speed of .1 for 8 seconds, then come down at the same speed and during the same period of them, then to rise again for five seconds at a speed of .3; and come down with the same speed and time parameters, and so on. I think either T.K. or Fletcher will post the video, so I won’t…

Captura de pantalla 2014-02-10 a la(s) 10.57.29 AM

It is still hard for me to determine the exact height and speed: my impression is that when it soars, it’s way faster than when it descends. Although our drone was supposed to descend at the same speed and for the same time-length, it never came down to where it started (isn’t this supposed to happen?). Does this make sense? I enjoyed it anyways.

The Drone Rung

On January 20, in the German-speaking part of northern Italy, a massive boulder rolled down a mountain and through a 300-year-old farmhouse. No one was injured, but the destruction the boulder caused was fairly devastating.

One of the first pictures released was this:

While it shows that some destruction happened, it’s hard to get a clear sense of the extent of the damage. Later, a local news outlet employed the use of a UAV to create the following video:

Instantly, the scope of the landslide is felt. At last count, 2.5 million viewers have now watched this video and better understand what it means when thousands of cubic meters of rock descend on farmlands and houses.

Video isn’t an inherently better medium to pictures, nor to audio, nor to text. However, advancements in technology improve everything. Text goes from static newspapers to dynamic websites, audio goes from radio to podcasts, advancements in photography and video gave us color and high definition, and now drones can put cameras where they weren’t able to go before, to tell stories in ways we couldn’t tell them. The more technology advances, the more aware we’ll all be of the world around us, and the more we can do to change it.

Flying Robotic Journalism – Here to Stay?

As affordable drones gain in popularity, I believe journalism using these vehicles will absolutely be a real, viable part of news organizations in the future. While the lack of regulations today make it impossible for journalists to take advantage of them for commercial purposes, we can still see the benefit that it provides citizen journalists, filmmakers, and DIY tinkerers alike. As early adopters have begun to develop with drones they have already made them easier to use and more accessible. Ordinary people – including journalists who may not have the know-how to personally build and program one – are gaining access to these vehicles. In the future, it is my opinion that drones will become valuable assets for those journalists who want to be able to capture images that otherwise they might not have been able to in addition to the film and sports industries.

While drone use in public areas today remains largely unregulated and many prefer it that way, perhaps regulation could be a boon to journalism. Depending on the type of regulation we may see, allowing drones in certain situations could give journalists the confidence they need to properly deploy them in areas where they may be beneficial.

The only thing that may stop the proliferation of drones for the use of journalism and photography is negative regulation that completely limits the use of drones in these areas. But as long as academic programs include drone journalism, I believe the incentive for budding journalists to use everything in their power to get the story will be enough to push drone journalism as a viable sector of journalism.

Mizzou is one example:

*apologies for lateness – originally posted on my personal ITP blog*

Drone Journalism

The New York City Drone User group forwarded this memo to its users on Super Bowl Sunday:

“A FAA NOTAM/TFR has been issued for the greater East Rutherford, NJ metropolitan area for Sunday, 2/2/2014. The TFR establishes the flight restrictions in place for Super Bowl XLVIII and will be in effect from 5:00p until 11:59p EST. The affected area is the East Rutherford, NJ metropolitan area surrounding the MetLife Stadium. Outdoor model aircraft operations are prohibited within the 30nm circle during the specific times of the TFR. Model aircraft operations are further restricted within 1nm of MetLife Stadium from 12:00p to 11:59p EST. Be advised TFRs are subject to change with very short notice. Please check back often for the most current NOTAM/TFR information.”

This information was originally posted on the website of The Academy of  Model Aeronautics. It raises interesting issues regarding  drone journalism, especially, when it concerns future legislation and flight safety.

With drones rapidly entering the marketplace enabling journalists to cover stories in new ways, it will be interesting to see how these restrictions can ensure the safety of the public as well as free speech and the freedom of the press.




Dreading the drone, or making it the new tomorrow? My first reaction to the concept of drones as a journalistic technique…

The concept of drones had always invoked the picture of a hugely ill-shaped airplane shooting missiles on civilian areas in my mind. However, the idea that these drones can actually be used as a tool to carry out serious journalistic projects, like covering protest movements always remained alien. Fixing a camera to a flying quad copter: such a simple yet elegant solution to media journalism (which lies at the heart of all information exchange throughout the world) is beautiful indeed. However drone journalism as a field is still in its incubation stage but does have a promising and rather effective future in my view.

While talking to my roommate about how awesome scripting a drone would be for this class, he told me of a really interesting project that he had worked on with his colleagues at the MIT Media Lab ( The team he was part of essentially worked on deploying drones to farmlands, to help farmers determine how irrigable and cultivable their farmlands by collecting radiation measurements from the area. The drones were helpful because they could be easily manoeuvred through farm areas where bringing a radiation surveillance vehicle might not be the best of ideas. That is exactly what the great thing about drones is: there is almost no collateral damage and yet the best possible information is transferred to us.

Examples from the coverage of the riots and protests in New York (Occupy Wall Street), Turkey and Poland are only a small test run of what could potentially become a game-changer for the journalism scene in the near future. Even though protests are important events that can be covered by these drones, but even simple things such as covering sporting events which is currently carried out using helicopters, can be done effectively by using somewhat stronger machines and help reduce cost and minimize wastage of resources. In addition deployment in areas unfavorable to human can increase the breadth of the field of journalism vastly. For example, particularly dangerous fields such as wildlife journalism can now benefit from these developments to better the quality of their research data.

Drones offer journalists a wider choice of tools they need, to essentially do their job. New York Times covered an article (   which states “What drones give you is anywhere, anytime access to the sky… That perspective is something that a journalist just wouldn’t have unless he waited for officials, or hired a plane.” Aerial unmanned objects therefore can provide the field of media journalism a third and much needed dimension: the dimension of freedom and safety.

During the recent protests in Kiev, Ukraine dozens of journalists were brutally injured while trying to cover the proceedings of the protests as reported in an article by the Poynter here: Apart from the physical pain caused to these journalists the police destroyed many of their cameras with recorded material. As a result, they suffered for nothing at the end of the day. Drone deployment in this situation could have done wonders, since images and media footages recorded could be directly transmitted to a base station on the fly, which does not necessarily have to be in close proximity of the disturbances. However while on one hand this situation does sound idealistic, drones deployed at the Taksim Square, were shot down by police, within minutes of being in flight.  Government institutions do not always clearly define the legalities around this particular technique of journalism. Since it is a brand new field, policy amendments have not yet been of highest concern in majority of the nations of the world.

So, yes I believe that drone journalism has a huge potential in the coming years, and will transform society by making more in-depth information available to us about various important activities, political and otherwise. However they face the shortcoming given that their legal usage is unclear still and additionally there are multiple technical glitches: battery life and footage resolution being one of them. However with the almost guaranteed leaps of technological development, overcoming this does not seem like an impossible task and will definitely result in full time usage of these drones in the near (very near) future. Hopefully, our class can contribute something towards this!

The future of flying robotic journalism

A few months ago, the idea of drone journalism seemed obscure and unlikely to take off (pun not intended) to me. This is partly because media attention on drones has focused on drone attacks in recent years, and partly because, I think, they are new and strange and, let’s face it, kinda ominous-looking. But after reading, researching and reflecting more on the topic in the past few weeks I’m starting to revise my option.

First of all and on a very basic level, some of the video I’ve watched taken from drones is beautiful! Aerial photography and videography from helicopters and hot air balloons have always been captivating, but the relative accessibility and low price of drone cameras suddenly makes such an aesthetic accessible (inevitably increasingly so in the coming years); for that reason alone, I think all sorts of camerapeople will seek out this method out of a sense of novelty and the ability to see things in a new way. GoPros have become incredibly popular due to their ability to capture novel and interesting perspectives (you can put it on a surfboard! or a dog!), and drone cameras share some of that same appeal.

Of course, the potential for popularity could be mitigated by legal restrictions. According to this article ( “The FAA has been saying since 2007 that commercial drone use is not allowed, but the agency never went through the official rule-making channels to make it illegal.” The seemingly large swaths of grey area and lack of precedent around drone usage makes it difficult to predict the future of drone journalism, and also makes it a fascinating time to be focusing on this area.

Whether or not drones become popular, there’s also the related but separate question of how impactful and important they will be in journalism itself– what new stories will be told with drones, and how.  I think there are obvious advantages to filming certain events or places with “eyes in the sky” (many of which we discussed in class), and one-off videos of events (whether filmed with drones or not; and there are some which indisputably can be filmed with drones but not otherwise) can be incredibly powerful and influential. 

But personally, I’m less interested in this sort of video and more interested in stories that are strive to be holistic and intimate. There are certainly cases when a wide-angle video of a crowd will make waves and pull at one’s emotions, but most often stories require context as well as personal stories to to make people care—things that drones (at least for now) are ill-equipped to capture. I can’t envision many full stories being told entirely via drones, but I think they are an exciting tool , one which will become increasingly popular and important, and which (particularly IMHO when used in conjunction with other tools) can help tell stories with purpose and poetry.