About the class

Flying Robotic Journalism


Mondays, 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m
NYU Interactive Telecommunications Program
contact: ben AT droneconference.org

It used to be that only the wealthy and powerful could put eyes in the sky. Dramatic aerial images of riots and other uprisings–captured by guerrilla drone journalists, activists and protestors—suggest a politically transformative leveling of the playing field.

Yet even the cheapest quadcopter can threaten evisceration or fatality, and unmanned flight is a legal minefield. With all this uncertainty, what are the prospects for drone journalism in the US and globally?

In this class, learn about the law, technology, and practice of drone journalism. You’ll meet pioneers of the field, develop conceptual understanding by programming toy drones, and finally conceive & pilot a modest drone journalism mission.

How We’ll Do It

Today anyone can own a networked flying robot. You can download a open design on the internet and 3D print a flying robot that runs an open source flight controller. Or you can open your wallet and have a slick proprietary robot delivered by UPS.

In this class, we will be using commercially available, pre-assembled hardware. This gets us immediately into playing with & understanding aerial robotics applications. We’ll start off by experimenting with Parrot AR Drones—these $300 toys are unsuitable for real field work, but perfect for beginners to gain a conceptual understanding of the possibilities (and limitations!) of small unmanned systems. We’ll spend a few weeks scripting them with JavaScript as we learn from drone journalism pioneers.

As the semester progresses, we’ll discover what’s possible using balloons, near-infrared imaging, sensors, photomosaics, autopilot software and simulations. Finally, we’ll collectively plan a New York City-based drone journalism feature using a prosumer-grade flying camera: the DJI Phantom 2 Vision.

To produce our drone journalism feature, we’ll be researching, planning, flying, shooting, editing video, designing a home for it on the web, and publishing.

About the class 

This is a class about the journalistic applications of flying robots. You don’t need any special skills to participate, but you will need to continuously document your participation in all class activities.

Your blog record will include summaries of your AR Drone experiments, pictures and footage you’ve captured in the field, and also written work. That will include theoretical mission planning, reactions to class readings, victorious gloating after a successful flight, or possibly statements of regret after you’ve crashed/destroyed expensive school hardware.

Speaking of expensive school hardware—you will have access to both toy hardware and expensive prosumer flying cameras. You will be working in groups of 4, coordinating around hardware availability, individual skills and responsibilities. You’ll only be able to fly after you’ve demonstrated that you know what you’re doing. Attendance in all class sessions is mandatory, as well as attendance in two weekend field excursions in New York City parks, where you’ll learn flight basics. If you can’t make any of these dates, please let Ben know ASAP: ben [AT] droneconference [DOT] org