Tech by VICE

Livestreaming Drone Footage Is the Future of Citizen Journalism

"Any event of any kind, I can see them being there."

by Jason Koebler
Apr 9 2015, 10:00am

​Screengrab: ​YouTube

​If livestreaming apps like Periscope and Meerkat are going to ​change the news industry in a similar way Twitter did—by allowing whoever happens to be near a news event to become a de facto journalist—imagine what happens when you put an internet-connected, live streaming camera in the sky.

The new DJI Phantom 3 quadcopter, ​announced Wednesday, looks just like the old Phantom, save for some gold stripes on the outside to let you know you've got the "Professional" edition. And while it does have better motors and some better guts, the new one, from a hardware standpoint, isn't leaps and bounds above what's already out there. Its killer app (to use a tired phrase) is the ability to stream whatever the drone sees onto YouTube, with one click. Livestreaming is exactly where drones are going, very soon.

"Any event of any kind, I can see them being there," Eric Cheng, DJI's director of photography, told me at a launch event for the Phantom 3 Wednesday. "A protest, an accident, a disaster, someone's going to be there streaming from it."

It was perhaps in poor taste for the Verge to run a story about how Periscope is the future of journalism mere minutes after a building collapsed in ​Manhattan's Lower East Side earlier this month. But the sentiment—that people have a tendency to whip out their phones when shit is going down—isn't wrong.

In the case of a car accident or a burning building, lots of times you won't be able to get close enough to see what's going on with your smartphone. But with a drone that shoots 4K footage and can maintain a stabilized hover at just about any altitude, that's not a problem. Whether it's dangerous, illegal, or invasive to do it is something we should probably talk about. But livestreaming of sensitive events is going to happen, probably as soon as the Phantom 3 drops later this month.

Think about these scenarios:

Livestreaming a concert? Sure—I'd love to watch. Livestreaming a protest? Slightly trickier, but, hey, public space, and lots of people would love to be there in spirit. Livestreaming a fire, or an accident, or a collapsed building, or the aftermath of a police shootout? Potentially problematic or unsafe or grisly, but no less compelling. And, perhaps extremely useful. Consider how the entire narrative ​surrounding the police shooting of Walter Scott, a black man in South Carolina, changed after video of the incident surfaced.

I didn't get to try out the Phantom 3 at today's launch event in New York City. But I did get to see other people fly them and livestream it back. One minute, I was watching a guy in Los Angeles hover high above the Hollywood sign. The next, I was taking an aerial tour of some Greek islands. Then I was at a party in Singapore. The Phantom 3 backed out of a balcony, and all of a sudden I had a live, 360 degree view of the entire city.

DJI aren't the first ones to do this, and other drone companies are definitely getting into the livestreaming game soon. It feels like the future.