This is the beginning of the drone revolution. Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), have already dramatically and permanently changed the theater of war. But in the next decade, they could have a similar impact on search and rescue operations, disaster mitigation, environmental stewardship, medicine, urban planning, agriculture, journalism, STEM education, and many other domestic endeavors.
This revolution is brought to you by some equally-important tech revolutions: the open-source software and hardware movements, the 3D printing revolution, the crowd-funding revolution, and the open data revolution. Drones are becoming more accessible and less expensive just as they are becoming more capable, smaller, better sensing, and more intelligent.
I'm Matthew Schroyer, founder of DroneJournalism.org, a website and organization dedicated to establishing a technological and ethical framework for deploying unmanned aerial systems in journalism investigations. I also use drones to teach STEM concepts to primary and secondary school students, as part of the National Science Foundation grant EnLiST.
Drones can be tremendous assets to journalists, not only as agile substitutes for large and expensive news helicopters, but also as versatile platforms for a plethora of sensors.
All this means that journalists can move from collecting quotes to collecting verifiable, high-resolution geospatial data. But as I recently wrote for the Canadian International Council, the real potential for drones is unlocked when they are integrated into smart infrastructure:
Technology already exists that networks drones together, allowing them to act as a team, or a swarm. They can be integrated into an “internet of things,” and form the backbone of an early detection system that keeps journalists – and, in turn, the public – informed of a potential crisis around the corner.
I'm looking forward to discussing the potential for drones to enhance smart infrastructure, augmented reality, and other areas as an ISTAS 13 plenary speaker and co-author on this blog. And I hope to meet you all in Toronto in June. I'm available here on the blog, and on Twitter as @matthew_ryan.