Drone technology is evolving faster than laws and policies governing it, and it’s illegal for journalists to fly drones for commercial use in the U.S. and many African countries, but one Kenyan pioneer did something to speed up the process.
Dickens Olewe started a company, AfricanSkyCam, with the goal of establishing drone journalism teams in Africa and revolutionizing frontline reporting using drones. The project is experimenting with mass-produced drones and camera-equipped balloons for aerial imaging, digital mapping. and sensor journalism, according to his website.
African SkyCAM was among 20 projects selected for funding in the inaugural African News Innovation Challenge, according to the company website.
Dickens was the digital content manager at the Star Newspaper in Nairobi, Kenya before he was offered a 2014-2015 Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University.
Now he’s working on developing best-practice guidelines to encourage responsible and safe use of drones in journalism.
“Kenya, Uganda and Morocco have banned civilians from using drones,” Dickens said in the video. “I intend to bring this conversation to Africa.”
Drones are safe for commercial use, easy to use, affordable and have great potential for storytelling, according to this Stanford University video.
They’ve been used to produce important stories in Africa and Dickens said he wants to make sure they can be used legally in the future.
“We use drones to cover stories from angles that were previously possible only from costly news helicopters,” he said. “Huge crowds at a political rally, park rangers training during an anti-poaching exercise…recently we made a 3D model of a massive dump site in Nairobi using photos taken with a 3D camera attached to a drone.”
Dickens helped organize an April 22 convention of Silicon Valley industry leaders to discuss obstacles, best practices and develop use-case scenarios. In attendance at the first ever event — named “Techraking: Elevating the News” — were more than 100 drone manufacturers, lawmakers, journalists and academics.
They gathered in Berkeley, Calif., for the conference, which focused on the use of drones in reporting. Hosing the event were the JSK Journalism Fellowships at Stanford, The Center for Investigative Reporting and the News Lab at Google.
In February, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration posted proposed rules for using drones in commercial work including journalism. The public comment period ended April 24. Drone journalism experts say the proposed rules look surprisingly flexible, according to the video.
Some of the ideas that came out of the conference included using drones to collect air samples in polluted places and send the findings to a mobile app. Other teams suggested challenging the ban on drone use in Africa, using drones to survey populations, and creating repositories of drone images and videos.