The Daily Nebraskan
This year’s Nebraska Lectures series will discuss the past, present and future of drone culture in the United States, as well as shortcomings in the use and regulation of drones in recent years.
The talk, given by Matt Waite, professor of practice in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and member of the UNL Publications Committee, will take place Wednesday, Nov. 8, at 3:30 p.m. in the Nebraska Union Auditorium as part of the annual lecture series.
Waite first learned about drones in 2011 during a digital mapping conference in Southern California. He discovered a company was selling what it called a fully autonomous aerial mapping platform.
The device was a small fixed-wing drone with a camera attached to it and a computer on board that the user could use to take high-resolution pictures of a field from the ground.
Waite was drawn to the device immediately, until he realized it cost $65,000 and was illegal in the United States at the time.
“That got my mind going wild about how journalists could have their own flying robot someday soon, and would be really useful to document things like hurricanes, wildfires and tornadoes,” he said.
Waite said certain stories are hard to document from the ground, and the convenience of drones could help capture the full scope of certain news situations.
“I was a reporter in Florida for 10 years and I was the reporter that had to show just how devastating some natural disasters were,” he said. “It’s hard to do that from the ground quickly.”
That following fall, Waite pitched the idea of a drone program to UNL. The program would examine not only how journalists could use drones, but the policy and ethical implications of them as well.
After gaining approval from the university and receiving a grant from the Knight Foundation, the drone program began and Waite produced his first story about drone technology in 2012.
Waite said the story picked up attention from over 40 news outlets around the world, along with catching the attention of the Federal Aviation Administration, which eventually led to a cease and desist order.
This cease and desist order was not the last of the complications Waite had. Over the course of six years, the FAA has changed the rules on drone usage in the United States several times, according to Waite.
“At one point, you had to be a commercial entity to use the drone, which consisted of having a pilot’s license,” he said. “So, I spent a summer getting a pilot’s license only to have the FAA change the rules so I didn’t need one anymore a little while later.”
It was difficulties like these with no workable solutions that inspired the lecture about drone culture, Waite said.
“There are all these really amazing things that these devices can do, but our society is not properly equipped to deal with it, so we are dealing with it poorly,” he said.
Waite said drone regulation and legislation treat the devices like they are different from other technologies currently available, when they are actually not that different.
“There are states that have made photographing things that are out in the public an illegal offense if you do it with a drone, but if you do it with a selfie stick and your phone and stick it 15 feet in the air, then it’s perfectly legal,” he said.
Waite said he hopes attendees of the lecture will not only gain perspective on drone culture and the difficulties it faces, but on the possibilities of drones for the future.
“I can see drones becoming a part of our everyday personal and work life,” he said.
Kenzie Lingenfelter, a sophomore animal science major who plans to attend the conference, said she is interested in learning about the possibilities of drones in the agricultural field.
“I can definitely see [drones] being used for more than just journalism,” she said. “There are lots of things that drones could be used for to better help farming and ranching.”
Waite said he believes that although it may take time, drone usage will become a part of everyday society.
“I want people to understand that our ancestors went through the very same freak-out when manned aircraft came about,” Waite said. “It took them about 50 years to solve their problems with that technology, and I hope we move faster and smarter than those in the past.”