More on gadgets for “Drone Journalism”

The previous post got a friend and I talking on Google+ this morning. He suggested RC blimps as platforms for live aerial videography. It’s an intriguing thought. Since a helium-filled blimp is self-lifting, much less power is needed, thereby vastly extending battery life and aloft-time. It would also be a very quiet and stable platform, especially for long, static events like large demonstrations that don’t involve a fast-paced march.

A quick search turned up Beatfly, an opensource blimp. It might just be the trick, or at least a good starting point. Cool thing is that it is already controllable with every interface, from iPhone to web interface to text to voice command. Being open-source, it fits right in with Occupy values and meets the reproducibility criterion (see below).

All that is needed now is 3G/4G streaming camera integration and some data on wind dynamics. I suspect that it is virtually useless in all but the calmest air. Places like Occupy Oakland or Occupy SF, never mind the ports, are usually at least a little breezy. Maybe the electronic components can be grafted onto some existing airship design that is more breeze-tolerant.

The other problem I can see is that, unlike a small, fast helicopter, a blimp is big, slow and obvious. It would make an easy target for a shot-bag gun, for example. If things got too legally “hot”, a minicopter could rapidly whisk off to a safe landing spot. The blimp would be easy to track to its owner unless it could be remotely flown up and over buildings. Though I guess if authorities were pissed enough, they could track it with their real helicopter.

This reverse-surveillance technology and protocols have become known as “sousveillance” the monitoring of the few and powerful by the citizen-many. Most sousveillance technology needs to be relatively cheap and reproducible, as well as easily accessible. It also has to be somewhat sacrificeable, otherwise it becomes too valuable to take into the real high-stakes situations where it is most needed. Livestreaming on Ustream.tv has taken off so quickly because it meets all of these requirements. It takes a few minutes to set up the app on a smartphone, then a few more to configure your account on the web and you’re online live.

I predict that within less than a year, we’ll have a range of aerial livestreaming options to go with all the hand-held livestreams, hopefully with satellite uplinks for much faster data and higher-quality video. And better low-light video—please!

The Oakland Police Department has (mis-)named their helicopter, the one always hovering over Occupy Oakland demonstrations, “Argus.” But, the mythical Argus had a hundred eyes, immortalized on the peacock’s tail by the Greek goddess Hera—an imagery more appropriate to the diversity of Occupy than the monotonous black uniforms of the police.

Nat. Geo photo

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