Small camera drone carries big video punch

Glen Whiffen
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Telegram hopes to use quadcopter to capture breaking news video for website

What newspaper wouldn’t want a helicopter to get aerial shots of breaking or ongoing news events for its print and online editions?

Imagine the added value to readers of high-angle videos posted to a newspaper’s website.

At The Telegram, while a real helicopter is probably not in the budget, the newsroom has purchased a new quadcopter to eventually — if the appropriate permits are granted — cover events from the air.

The quadcopter is hardly intimidating. It is only about 18 inches square in size, and just over five inches high. It has a dedicated GoPro camera mount on its underside, and the craft and camera combo weigh less than 27 ounces.

The video captured up to its height limit of 150 feet, however, can be amazing.

The first video — which can be seen on The Telegram’s website — is of the Battery area of St. John’s harbour. The video was captured with Telegram photographer Keith Gosse at the controls — well, at the controls of the remote-control device way down on the land below.

Gosse is heading up the quadcopter project. He noted that when someone buys a quadcopter as a toy, they can fly it almost anywhere at any time. For a news organization, or anyone else who plans to use such an aircraft for commercial purposes, however, it becomes a whole new ball game … or whole new flight plan.

He said Transport Canada requires a special certificate to operate camera drones commercially. Even footage shot by a hobby pilot can’t be used in a media context, because it automatically falls into federal commercial guidelines.

“We had to make initial contact with Transport Canada to ask them, basically, what we would be required to do to fly this helicopter for The Telegram,” Gosse said.

“This little drone operates under the same UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) rules as the Predator drones that the Canadian Forces use. That’s because Transport Canada doesn’t have a specific set of guidelines for camera drones.

“So, we basically had to create a special flight operations certificate application, specific to The Telegram and this quadcopter. And the whole process — from first application, and from several phone calls and emails back and forth to clarify issues and get more direction on what it would take to get approval — took 2 1/2 months.”

New technology

Telegram managing editor Steve Bartlett gave the project its wings … blades … and the go ahead.

"With technology offering so many new and cool things, a drone seemed like a fun thing to try — and what newsroom hasn't dreamt of having a helicopter,” Bartlett said.

"I like the ability of being able to show people places and perspectives they've never seen. So many creative and interesting drone assignments have been floated around the newsroom since we bought it. It's pretty exciting for us, and hopefully, our online readers will agree.

"We're playing by the rules and will be taking great responsibility when using this. We've gotten all the necessary approvals — and, as Keith will tell you, there are many — and we will do so with each mission."

Gosse said it takes a minimum of two people to use the craft — one as the pilot who controls the aircraft and one as a safety observer. The observer would watch for any potential hazards — birds, pedestrians walking into the flight zone — and keep the pilot informed.

“The first video is basically a test flight over an area everyone is familiar with and an area we thought would be easy to shoot from a quadcopter,” Gosse said. “The main purpose of this flight was to test out the capabilities of the quadcopter and to determine if we needed any additional equipment or training to get a video that would be usable and entertaining to readers and people browsing the web.”

In the long term, Gosse says The Telegram hopes to have a more open-ended certificate agreement with Transport Canada that will allow the newsroom to deploy the quadcopter on shorter notice and possibly on breaking news stories.

“We don’t know if that’s going to be possible because Transport Canada’s current restrictions don’t allow us to fly it over bystanders, but we do have a certain amount of latitude to fly it over properties with permission from agencies or property owners,” Gosse said. “We hope it will be something we can utilize to enhance our news coverage.”

gwhiffen@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Transport Canada, Canadian Forces

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Recent comments

  • Rodger P.
    May 05, 2014 - 12:17

    I will be doing this commercially soon, for now it is just a hobby. Good start, but I hope your willing to throw more money at it to get the video better.

  • Carl
    May 03, 2014 - 22:09

    Less Nessman would have approved! Beating chest! BTW you might want to add a gimble mount to steady the shot.

  • Kate
    May 03, 2014 - 19:42

    Hmm - seems as though The Telegram has all ready violated Transport Canada's restrictions by the promo video. Sure hope the Telegram has valid permission to video all those folks home and most certainly the people walking.

  • I'm scared of bird modification program
    May 03, 2014 - 19:33

    Like any tool, takes care, and discretion in this case. Also, this decentralized approach may be better served if TC Media built one giant UAV (maybe some unpaid interns) to cover the East coast? These russki gulls and Icelandic beach birds are not birds...sure of it, too much kyarnin about it, code words,...spy's day is. Bird Articles have coded messages, tips to sell on gold markets. This is high tech bird-robots unlike anything Alfred Hickcock could have still done without. They have even been observed eating earthworms! Total sophisticated mimicry of organic systems, for surveillance. 5 years from know, how will you now a backyard jay, or ever a common crow, is not an informer on your march allow roast. These are part of the air loom and part of the illuminati. Bird poems one for sorrow...should have bought two of these queer birds, can't afford to have on down for the next chimney fire. Fly right in and check people for studded tires. There are some really good uses for this technology. Fortunately, the Transport Canada agreement is open to see, and professional men are at the helm. Need an art job on it though, some Newfie colors, to keep it from getting pinned with a dilinquints rock? Please don't use it for litterskeetselfies and all that jazz. Get some encryption on it, lest Wayne Bennett take her to Cuba with a modified GameCube controller and his fido Dogwhistle 600. I do hope it's put to good use. Careful of augury, and self fullfilling prophecy.

  • Marty
    May 03, 2014 - 09:54

    Gives new local meaning to "Big Brother is watching"! Be careful out there....

  • Well see
    May 03, 2014 - 09:18

    You might catch people naked in their yard or something. It does seem like it would be invasive on peoples privacy, regardless of 'news'.