the transition to digital journalism
Sensors, Drones and the Internet of Things
Sensors and other devices that collect data and other information and transmit it via the Internet are proliferating. This has been referred to as "The Internet of Things" or "ubiquitous computing."
Predictions about how sensors would transform how we live and work have been around for a long time. But the proliferation of smart phones that can communicate with sensing devices has increased interest in the area.
The home is one place where sensors connected to smart phones are being deployed to measure, track or automate everything from heating and lighting to when doors should be unlocked. See for example how a company called Smart Things connects together devices in a home, which then can be manipulated using a smartphone.
Another major area of sensor deployment is measuring environmental hazards like air pollution.
See for example the Air Quality Egg project, which allows people to deploy air-quality sensors to gather air quality information that then is uploaded to the Internet. An earlier, similar project was called Common Sense.
And UC Berkeley Professor of Art Practice Greg Niemeyer used air-quality sensors in a game called Black Cloud that high school students played to track down the sources of air pollution in their community.
Using sensors to obtain this kind of information opens new possibilities for data driven news stories.
WNYC in New York in 2013, for example, had people build DIY Cicada Tracker temperature sensors. People would stick the sensors in the ground and track rising temperatures that would predict the arrival of Cicada bugs that emerge from underground every 17 years.
Another type of device being deployed for news gathering is the drone. Also referred to as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAVs, drones can be used to get videos, photos and other information for news stories such as natural disasters or public protests.
But those programs hit a major roadblock in August 2013 when the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration notified them they required Certificates of Authorization to use the drones. The FAA now is drafting regulations on how drones deployed for commercial purposes can use U.S. airspace.
Other countries allow regulated use of drones, and some news organizations have experimented with using them for newss coverage, such as the BBC with its Hexacopter.
But there are a number of issues that are likely to restrict their use for news gathering. These range from public safety and privacy concerns to limited flight time due to short battery life.
Readings and Resources
- Internet Of Things - Mashable topics section
- Common Sense: Mobile Sensing for Community Action project
- Air Quality Egg project
- Robofly - Jason Spingarn-Koff, 2001. Master's project documentary by UC Berkeley Graduarte School of Journalism student Jason Spingarn-Koff on development of miniature mechanical flies.
- The Black Cloud: Using Games to Understand Air Quality - Planetizen, 9/4/2008. A story about a game on air quality that used sensing devices to gather the air quality data. The game was developed by UC Berkeley Prof Greg Niemeyer.
- What do open sensor networks mean for journalism? - Javaun's Ramblings, 12/16/2011
- Sensoring the News - Radar O'Reilly, 3/22/2013
- How sensor journalism can help us create data, improve our storytelling - Matt Waite, Poynter online, 4/17/2013
- Welcome to the Programmable World - Wired, 5/14/2013
- Sensor Journalism Workshop at The Tow Center - Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia University Gradute School of Journalism, 6/1&2/2013
- Sensors: Mark Hansen on A Landscape Of Historical Practice - Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia University Gradute School of Journalism, 6/5/2013. An overview of the recent history of sensors.
- FAA hampers MU J-School drone classes - Columbia Daily Tribune, 8/22/2013
- Students experiment with 'drone journalism' - Palo Alto Online, 9/21/2013. Palo Alto High School journalism students use a drone to take aerial video of the dedication of their new stadium. See the video on YouTube.
- Feel me? - The promise and perils of sensor-based journalism - James Fahn, Columbia Journalism Review, 11/1/2013
- Photographer says Spokesman-Review’s drone-shot video occurred in a ‘gray area’ - Poynter onilne, 1/3/2014
- Journalism gets into the act as drones capture floods, protests and wars - Guardian, 2/12/2014
- Project Tango - Googe, 2/20/2014. An Android phone developed by Google that uses sensors and cameras to create a three dimensional representation of a space, such as the inside of a building, as a person walks through it holding the phone.