Oxford Stories Video: Meek School Professor Says Drones Are Tools, Not Toys

One of the most controversial technology issues in recent memory, camera drones have been hotly contested for their potential to interfere with citizens’ privacy.

For anyone who has flown or seen a drone in action, this is evidently impossible as the devices are often prohibitively loud for these uses.

However, these tools can be used for major advances in journalism and cinematography when used appropriately.

YouTuber iJustine testing the DJI Spark drone

The caveat to those statements is when the tech is used properly. The Federal Aviation Administration is the agency in charge of controlling U.S. airspace for both manned and unmanned aircraft. Their duty lies with keeping aerial traffic organized and the skies safe.

Small RC planes were once a non-issue because their radio transmissions didn’t allow them to reach heights which posed a potential threat to manned aircraft. Drones changed the game, and initially required a private pilot’s license to operate.

As of fall 2016, the FAA established a Part 107 knowledge test for commercial drone pilots to fly aircraft between .5 and 55 pounds.

When used properly, though, these tools are amazing feats of engineering and computer science that deliver unique experiences once only available to big budget films by way of helicopters.

“You bring in a different perspective than you would normally have,” said Ole Miss professor Ji Hoon Heo. “You can give aerial views and get to places you cannot with a DSLR or normal camera.”

Meek School of Journalism Professor Ji Hoon Heo. Photo by Clay Patrick.

Heo is an FAA Part 107 licensed pilot, who got his license approximately one month after the FAA established the test. He teaches a class each May Intersession in the Meek School of Journalism called Drone Journalism, among other things. This past May, his inaugural class of 12 students had seven students attempt and pass the Part 107 license test themselves.

His main concern in teaching students is emphasizing safe usage of the tool. He feels many people see drones as toys instead of tools because they are heavily commercialized by brands like DJI and Yuneec and are small enough to be seen as toys by parents.

“If parents give them, it’s their responsibility to make sure they are used properly,” Heo said. 

As a strong proponent of safe use over all else, Heo’s authority on drone knowledge was what inclined the University of Mississippi to include his input when drafting a drone policy for campus.

For obvious safety reasons, Heo and other contributors decided a ban on student flight was appropriate. Faculty are allowed to fly when cleared by the UM emergency management coordinator (formerly Dr. Barbara Russo).

Businesses may fly on campus if they turn in proof of insurance valued at $1M+, a copy of the pilot’s FAA Part 107 license, and are cleared for a specific time and location by the EMA coordinator at least 24 hours in advance.

Flying on campus requires clearance from the UM EMA Coordinator. Photo by Clay Patrick.

Heo’s main emphasis on drone use and final point was to never use a drone shot “because it would be cool.” A properly story-boarded project should use drone shots sparingly, and only when it provides a unique perspective not available without a drone.

Heo said he evaluates the need of a drone using the questions: “Does it add news value? Does it actually give us a new perspective? Are there angles or cinematic effects that you cannot get with a normal camera?”

As a journalist, he is always investigating to tell stories and said you must thoroughly plan shots because “if you are telling a story, it still has to make sense.”

By Clay Patrick

Read more stories like this on Oxford Stories.

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