The Missouri Drone Journalism program received a visit from a group of Korean journalists during class on Monday, April 22. The group was made up of seven reporters that are based in Seoul, South Korea. All are defectors from North Korea. A few of the reporters even left the communist nation within the last two years. Many now work for publications that cover North Korean topics for a South Korean audience.
The journalists were visiting as part of a seminar with the East-West Center. The group studied new media techniques during its stop at the Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia, Mo. for most of the past week, and will also travel to Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles.
During the afternoon, the journalists discussed possible uses of drones in journalism and observed a drone in flight. The class also showed some of its published work involving drone footage to the Korean journalists.
A visiting reporter with the newspaper DailyNK in Seoul, said that she believed drone technology would be useful in documenting the demilitarized zone between North Korea and South Korea.
“I specialize in North Korea coverage, and overhead pictures of both the demilitarized zone and the edge of the North (Korea) would be dynamic,” said the reporter through an assigned translator.
As debate over drones in combat reaches a tipping point in the United States, the use of unmanned flying bots on domestic ground is also starting to pick up steam. As many as 28 states are considering legislation that would outlaw unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. Another contentious issue in the U.S. is what makes a UAV “commercial” or “recreational.” Commercial use is generally recognized as having a profit endgame, but murky Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) laws only fuel the debate. Using UAVs for journalistic purposes seems to further blur the line between commercial and recreational use.
UAVs have also been making waves internationally, where laws (or guidelines) vary from nation to nation. The below is a guide we’ve put together that breaks down these various UAV laws. In most of the countries we’ve taken a look at, the designation between commercial and recreational UAV use is a key starting point in deciding rules and enforcement.
Canada(UAV-Friendly Rating: 2/5)
Perhaps the most complex UAV laws in the entire world exist just north of U.S. borders. Transport Canada is the agency that regulates Canadian air space, and it sets a clear line between “unmanned aerial vehicles” (commercial use) and “model aircraft” (recreational use). The definition of a model aircraft: less than 77.2 pounds, individually owned (no companies allowed) and not profit-seeking. If an aircraft meets these conditions, it is considered a recreational vehicle, making it subject to lower scrutiny. Aircraft that don’t meet this criteria are officially “unmanned aerial vehicles” and require Special Flight Operations certificates. Getting certified sounds like an almost more-trouble-than-it’s-worth process that includes a big list of specifications. For example: a UAV can meet the three model aircraft standards listed above, but if it’s also got a small camera, then the UAV automatically becomes an “unmanned aerial vehicle” under the law.
DIYdrones has more useful information on Canadian UAV law.
Mexico (UAV-Friendly Rating: 5/5)
No Civil Aviation Authority regulations beset UAV users in Mexico. In fact, Mexican attitudes evidently encourage UAV use. The Mexican government rewarded Jordi Muñoz, who is a young scientist and engineer, for exploring the peaceful uses of drones through his own production company, for example. The government also uses UAVs for everything from drug activity to university research.
United Kingdom(UAV-Friendly Rating: 3/5)
The U.K.’s UAV laws are similar to the current policies of the U.S. – meaning they’re really more like guidelines than a comprehensive set of regulations. Currently, CAP 722 claims jurisdiction over UAV use in the U.K. This legislation divides UAV use into two groups that both require permits. The key figure in the U.K. is 20 kg (or 44.09 pounds) – this is the weight limit a UAV cannot surpass to be considered a “small unmanned aircraft.” This title makes the aircraft more likely to only require a minor “Permit to Fly” classification, which is relatively easy to acquire, but does limit where and how high you can fly (rural lands are more acceptable).
Anything heavier or used for aerial photography requires a “Permit to Carry Out Aerial Work,” which comes with tougher restrictions. Attaining one of these permits requires a big list of prerequisites – from pilot qualification to design and construction certificates. According to The Guardian, there are only 130 groups or companies that have permission to fly UAVs in U.K. airspace.
Europe(UAV-Friendly Rating: 2/5)
Much of mainland Europe operates under the jurisdiction of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), a European Union group. EASA is simple when it comes to UAVs: you’re going to need certification in any situation, whatsoever. Such certification is only granted on a case-by-case basis under the EASA’s rules, which we’d imagine is a lengthy process. The EASA also has shown that it does not operate under much precedent in these cases, despite UAV technology growing more and more everyday. EASA’s Policy Statement webpage on UAVs says that requests proposing flight in unpopulated areas have the best success rate.
Brazil(UAV-Friendly Rating: 5/5)
In South America, Brazil has become a leading player in UAV use. On the national level, the country is investing deeply in UAVs to patrol its borders. There are also no direct laws that infringe free civilian use. Such openness allows for amazing footage, like this video adventure in Rio de Janeiro:
Oceana is perhaps the most welcoming region for UAVs in the world. An “unmanned aircraft system” is Australian terminology for a UAV used for profit-seeking “air work,” but such commercial use only requires some easily attainable identification. Otherwise, the UAV is a “model aircraft, flown for sport & recreation and education,” according to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. Model aircraft, from what we’ve seen, are completely hands-off in terms of regulation.
UAV law ranges quite a bit internationally, which is exemplary of the many opinions on the new aircraft in the U.S.. As of now, the U.S. combines much of both strict but broad laws with fairly open areas of freedom in flight. While much of the direct U.S./FAA regulation zeroes in on commercial purposes for use, recreational or “hobbyist” use has generally been left alone as long as UAVs aren’t breaking trespassing laws. State legislation currently being considered, however, could catapult the U.S. up to among the most highly restricted countries for UAVs out there.
The true stars of the Missouri Drone Journalism Program are the drones themselves, or the J-Bots, as the students pioneering the project have come to call them. Working with these Unmanned Aerial Vehicles is made possible through a partnership with the MU Information Technology Program, in which under the direction of IT Program lead Matthew Dickinson, students have learned to build and control the drones. Following are descriptions of the drones at the helm of the Missouri Drone Journalism Program:
– Quadcopter (DJI F450)
The Quadcopter, or “Quad,” is the most basic of the IT Program’s constructed drones and is the machine type that the Journalism Program’s students have been learning to fly by operating. The Quadcopter makes use of a hand-held radio transmitter, and runs on an external battery (either 3S or 4S) that attaches to the drone’s frame, allowing flight life of approximately 17 minutes. Motorized propellers, which lift the drone to flight, range from eight to ten inches in length. This drone does not have a camera gimbal, and is intended mainly for training use.
– TBS Discovery Quadcopter
This Quadcopter has been built around a TBS Discovery airframe. The TBS Discovery system uses an APM 2.5 controller, along with GPS and telemetry links, to carry First Person View equipment and
Image Courtesy of the MU IT Drone Lab
transmit 1.3 GHz live video. What all this means is that the TBS Discovery Quadcopter has the capacity to stream live video through flight to an adjacent monitor (see corresponding image to the right), for both flight control and recording purposes. This Quadcopter also has an attached base that can securely hold an additional camera, such as a GoPro, for either ground or overhead imaging. This Quadcopter also serves as a platform for the IT Program to develop APM flight controller code.
The Hexacopter, or “Hex,” holds six motors, instead of the four that Quadcopters utilize. This, in theory, leads to better control of the vehicles when in flight, as the motors are spaced closer together and react with quicker and more precise movements from the radio transmitter. The Hexacopter’s larger size also allows it to support a built-in landing gear unit and a camera gimbal. The gimbal gives an external camera (when attached) a steady base.
The XAircraft X650 V8 drone is currently being tested for the purpose of determining if the vehicle’s eight motors rightly provide additional stability over lower models by the IT Program, and may not see the hands of the Journalism Program until more complex stories are approached. A high payload capacity on this drone also allows for the use of larger batteries and extended airtime.
– “The BumbleBee” Quadcopter
“The BumbleBee” Quad (right) relative to a normal-sized Quadcopter (left)
This tiny Quadcopter, nicknamed “The BumbleBee,” is remarkable in the fact that it was constructed completely through the use of the IT Program’s Full Spectrum Laser 40W Laser Cutter. This non-GPS Quadcopter, which is utilized as more of an indoor flyer due to its small size and will not serve duty in the Journalism Program’s approach to public land stories.
Drones are proving to be a polarizing topic with their growth in the public eye.
The rise of these flying, video-capturing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (or UAV’s) has excited some with the promise of overhead landscape views never before possible.
The domestic use of such vehicles has also been met with criticism and claims of privacy invasion, prompting several states to propose legislation to halt their use.
Missouri has joined the list, as State Rep. Casey Guernsey introduced and defended his proposed Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act at a House Agri-Business Committee hearing on Feb. 5.
The bill, which has yet to gain another hearing date, “prohibits the use of a drone or other unmanned aircraft to gather evidence or other information with specified exceptions.”
Click play for State Rep. Casey Guernsey’s introduction and explanation of his proposed bill (3:03)
Click play for full questioning by the House Agri-Business Committee and supporting testimony from Steve Carroll of the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri (16:08)