UNL professor plans to use flying drone to report

By: Cole Miller

It looks like something right out a of sci-fi movie. It's a remote controlled flying machine with a camera, but before it takes off, there's a lot of work to be done.

Matt Waite's office doubles as a workshop. A journalism professor at UNL, Waite is hoping to change the way we report using a flying drone. The idea came to him at a technology conference last year.

“I thought of Joplin, Missouri. I thought of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I thought of the five hurricanes I covered in Florida in 2004 and 2005 and I said, this is it!” said Waite.

A reporter for nearly a dozen years, Waite covered many natural disasters, often from the sky. Now, thanks to a $50,000 grant, he's exploring the option of using remote-controlled drones for news gathering.

“Journalism organizations that could never get in the air, could get this type of information, suddenly now, it's very tangibly real to them,” said Waite.

But there are limits. Including the mechanics of the drone and ethical questions about its use. “When these become to low-cost and so easy to fly that pretty much anyone can use them, does that change the rules? And the honest answer is I don't know,” said Waite.

So Waite, along with a group of student, will soon move their lab from a tiny office where they hope to answer all of these questions and more.

“I think if you only think it's cool and you don't think it's a little creepy, I think you're being naive. If you only think it's creepy and you don't see the positives in the way this could be used for good, I think you're missing the point,” he said.

Under current FAA regulations, the drones are illegal for news gathering at least until September of 2015. A full drone journalism lab is expected to open at the college this fall.