The Mexico Ledger - Mexico, MO
  • Drone demonstration draws local interest

  • Drones may soon give journalists another avenue to deliver local news
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  • Drones may soon give area journalists another avenue to deliver local news.
    Last Thursday, a drone demonstration was held at the Missouri Military Academy Field House. Eighty or more area aviation enthusiasts, local educators, community residents and MMA cadets attended and witnessed a drone take flight.
    Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles. A demonstration, sponsored by Columbia NPR Affiliate KBIA, was conducted by KBIA Content Director Scott Pham — who is the director and founder of the Missouri Drone Journalism Program. The program is a partnership between students at the Missouri School of Journalism and the University of Missouri Information Technology Program. KBIA is reportedly the first radio station in the area to venture into aerial news.
    Due to Federal Aviation Administration regulations, the flight at MMA had to be held indoors due to the station's lack of a FAA license. However, its credentials include NBC Nightly News that recently did a story on the project. Pham was also invited to Paris, France, where he was on a panel to discuss the aerial program. From Paris he flew to China, where he spent 10 days speaking about the program. Hollywood, he said, has also voiced interest in using drones to save on filming costs.
    Pham said he expects the aerial concept to explode when the FAA comes up with new rules concerning the usage of drones.
    "It will offer journalists another way to deliver news that hasn't been done before," Pham said.
    The KBIA drone has a resin carbon fiber landing gear, weighs five pounds, has an attached camera for footage and is capable of achieving heights up to 400 feet. The station's intent, Pham said, is strictly to gather aerial footage for agricultural and environmental news and then put the stories online.
    Pham said there are legal and ethical restrictions that include not flying above the restricted height, in populated areas or near airports. The drone also must never be out of the pilot's sight or flown in areas congested with homes.
    "We have a reputation of being harmless, and we want to keep that reputation. We've never flown over anyone's property without their permission. Transparency when you are dealing with something like this is very important," he said, adding that It is not the radio station's plan to invade anyone's privacy.
    Pham said there are a wide variety of drone shapes, sizes, configurations and characteristics. The KBIA drone operates off of a lithium battery and resembles a mechanical spider, with six legs, a camera and GPS. Historically, he said, the aircrafts were remotely piloted aircraft, but autonomous control is increasingly being employed.
    He said KBIA's drone only flies for 15 minutes at a time, and has flown as high as 200 feet in the air. The cost to build one is around $1,500.
    Page 2 of 2 - Noting that UAVs are deployed predominately for military and special operations applications, Pham said they can also be used in a small but growing number of civil applications - such as law enforcement, firefighting and non-military security work like surveillance of pipelines.
    Pham said KBIA is collaborating with the Mizzou School of Engineering, and revolves around agriculture and environmental issues to make their stories. The station has four examples of drone stories on its website.
    Mexico resident Kay Willis attended Thursday's event out of curiosity. She learned about drones from television, and she decided to attend after reading about the local demonstration. "I enjoy seeing interesting and different things," she said.
    Drones are useful to society and good for journalism," Pham told the audience. "Though they are restricted by law extensively, they will give newsrooms an aerial view that will allow us to create good, usable content."
    The group plans to return to Mexico next spring to share new updates on the drone project and possibly to showcase an even larger unmanned aircraft.
    Following the demonstration a question and answer session was held and those attending were allowed to handle the drone.
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