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.

Journalism schools at the University of Nebraska and the University of Missouri set up drone labs or programs to explore their use in reporting.

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.

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