DroneHack Journalism: innovating storytelling from the air

January 25, 2017
John Mills

Journalists are increasingly using drones – in conflict scenarios, national sporting events and on regional programming. DroneHack Journalism, held at Manchester’s Sharp Project and jointly hosted by the Media Innovation Studio, Trinity Mirror and Journalism.co.uk on January 21st, brought together journalists, engineers, artists and visual storytellers with a single purpose: to innovate UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) in unique ways, and to create new storytelling opportunities.

The Hack had an international array of speakers contribute throughout the day. These  included journalism technologist Ben Kreimer spoke about his work with drones, immersive reality and 3D/VR mapping. Technologist and video journalist Dr David Dunkley Gyimah spoke about the cinematic qualities drones could offer, and how visual storytellers could capitalise on them.

Emmy Award winner and CEO of Skytango Steven Flynn spoke about how his venture was exploring new ways to distribute content, and verify its legality and quality. Dickens Olewe, founder of African Skycam, spoke about his experiences of drone journalism and the challenges and opportunities it presented.

Finally,  Sally French, aka the Drone Girl, Skyping in from California, outlined intriguing examples how drones had been used not just to cover stories, but to break them, and began to look at the future, and what it might hold for journalists and UAVs.

To explore the potential of drones for journalism in further detail, attendees formed teams and began to explore our DroneHack sensor kits – which included wide and diverse tech such as alcohol sensors, motion detection, LED screens and pollution sensors. The core mission was to use these Our teams brainstormed, debated and build a range of kits that sought to answer a specific journalistic challenge.

Concepts include a personal drone that followed users, generating a range of environmental data; sought to isolate environmental differences between varying socio-economic areas via drone-mounted citizen science kits and a personalised drone that would capture data specifically relevant to you and your experiences over the course of the day.

While the building took place, the hack demoed a range of technologies for people to play with and explore. These included a face-recognition-equipped bad drone that explored how UAVs could challenge privacy and 3D immersive experiences currently being developed by Ben Kreimer.

With a short interlude for pizza, the hack continued to the final flight and test challenge. With just one team flight-ready, each pitched their concept to the judges.

The winner – the personal data drone concept – took home the prestigious, 3D-printed, fluorescent Golden Drone Trophy. And, after 12 hours of intense hacking, we headed for the bar…

To read a Storify of the day as it developed, created by the Sharp Project, head over in this direction…