News organizations, sports broadcasters, ad agencies, filmmakers, and other media companies have flocked toward drones in order to get aerial views a lot more safely and cheaply. But collecting bird’s-eye footage and economizing on the cost of helicopters are only the beginning. The benefits of drone adoption just keep expanding for these sectors.

Aerial robotics technology opens up access to places that used to be off limits, from the streets of San Francisco early in the COVID pandemic to close-up looks through the canopy of rainforests. It enables new viewing angles and shots. It’s bringing the ability to quickly generate 3D models and 2D maps within reach of most budgets. And it’s creating entirely new storytelling formats that blend the virtual with the actual. 

Drones provide visual data and overhead views that help audiences better understand a news incident, see a pattern, or absorb a unique advertising message. As Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Josh Haner puts it, “I was able to get an aerial angle of the giant moai statues on Easter Island showing their proximity to an eroding coastline, which would not have been possible any other way.”

Here are some of the latest ways media companies are taking advantage of drone technology.

Fresh takes and experiential imagery

Broadcasters, entertainment media, and advertisers can leverage drones to capture segments that used to be difficult, impossible, or very expensive. These let viewers enjoy a more immersive experience as they glide through single takes, fly through indoor environments, gain 360-degree perspectives, and see first-person views (FPV) — like what it feels like to dive off the world’s tallest building. All without multiple cameras, trusses, dollies, or helicopters.

Drone data is also helping create compelling forms of news content that meld thermal or spatial data with time-stamped photography. A news organization can use a drone mounted with an infrared sensor to visualize heat loss from a building, or see in the dark and create a 3D map of a disaster area. A mounted LiDAR sensor allows journalists to use lasers for precise point cloud measurements, creating detailed 3D models of terrain or structures. 

High-tech journalism using air and ground robots

News gatherers can use drone data to check facts, inform investigations, or recreate an event. Imagine being able to capture airborne data to verify odor complaints by a community downwind of a smelly wastewater treatment plant. (Yes, a drone mounted with an electronic nose can predict how bad an odor is based on chemical concentrations — and also pinpoint the source.)

Or, following an oil spill, journalists could provide not only aerial views from a drone, but quickly calculate the spill perimeter. The news team could quickly generate a highly accurate data visualization, like the impact of such a spill on a watershed. 

The Los Angeles Times has plans to use computer vision to let users “see what the robot sees” with high-definition, near real-time video feeds from drones in the air and robots on the ground. They’re also partnering with Verizon Robotics for ground and aerial robotics technology to create 3D digital twin models to add visual and location context to stories.

These dynamic new approaches to storytelling are possible due in part to improvements in data processing speed and connectivity. Thanks to technological advances like Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network, data can be streamed and transferred at high speeds even in critical, time-sensitive situations.

Augmented reality news & immersive ads

Experiential approaches to storytelling offer some combination of immersion, audio and video envelopment, multi-sensory content, FPV, and natural user interface design, like voice or gesture control. 

Augmented reality (AR) is now being used to create news content that blends natural and artificial perception. Users can already see what it looks like to walk on Mars and interact with 3D climate model visualizations. With this technology, videos or 3D objects generated by drone data come to life. Soon, news consumers will be able to zoom through a topographical map to experience the scale of wildfires, or interact with 3D scans of famous landmarks around the world right from their tablet. And these drone-generated experiences may be expandable into virtual reality (VR) for an even more immersive story.

All of these tech-forward advances are quickly coming within reach even for smaller budgets and productions. They’re attractive because they’re so engaging and informative. They give viewers more control over how they witness a news event or video by letting them manually change perspectives. And they bring people a deeper understanding of what’s happening in the world.

Powering production during the remote work era

Drones make video collection and production less centralized processes for media companies. This is a big advantage in terms of safety and reliability, especially in the pandemic era. For instance, due to health concerns, some TV networks trimmed their broadcast teams for the 2022 Winter Olympics, relying on remote production for a lot of their coverage. For local color, they were able to use B-roll drone footage of venues and sites. 

Another example: at one 2020 NASCAR race, broadcasters located offsite based their commentary on the live video feed from a drone instead of announcing from the close quarters of the announcer’s booth. It’s one more way drones extend the reach of video and broadcasting crews.

Further innovations on the horizon

We’ve come a long way since news choppers with a camera operator leaning out the side were the leading technology for seeing things from the air. The era of drone newsgathering and aerial data is just beginning. Visuals captured by drones just keep getting better, with 4K video, 360° views, and other data becoming widely accessible. And we expect to see it all boosted by Verizon’s ultra-fast 5G network.

So how can news organizations, broadcasters, film companies, and ad agencies that want to leverage drone data get started? Skyward can help. Let us train and equip your drone team while helping you create policies from the ground up, or see what Skyward’s drone software platform can enable you to do.

Preorder Parrot ANAFI Ai from Skyward today