Fresno Bee testing drone for newsgathering

The Fresno Bee is testing a quadcopter for possible use in newsgathering. Photo illustration by Art Pineda.The Fresno Bee is testing a quadcopter for possible use in newsgathering. Photo illustration by Art Pineda.
The Fresno Bee is testing a small drone aircraft to see if it can be used for aerial photography of accidents, fires, farmland, lakes and waterways.

If proven successful, it would be less expensive to operate and more readily available than a helicopter.

“We have a drone,” said Tom Cullinan, president and publisher of the Fresno Bee. Cullinan said The Bee viewed the battery-powered drone for the first time at a recent conference in Fort Worth, Tex.

One limitation is that it only stays airborne for 20 minutes. So the ground pilot has to be expeditious in getting in position.

“We will see if it has applications,” Cullinan said.

One idea would be to attach a camera to the drone that could be operated by a person on the ground. It would be useful in accidents where traffic is backed up, hindering a reporter from reaching the scene, Cullinan said.

An example would be the recent vehicle accident involving two California Highway Patrol officers south of Fresno, he said. Traffic was backed up for some distance.

Cullinan said the drone would first be tested in parking lots, just to get the hang of flying one.

“This is a new thing and it’s way down the pike,” he said.

But he sees testing of it as a worthwhile endeavor.

“We saw it demonstrated and the cost is reasonable,” Cullinan said.

Portable drones with transmitters can now be purchased from about $600 to $1,200. Gary Funk, Bee technology editor, said the portable drone is a quadcopter. It cost less than $500, he said.

It will carry a GoPro brand mountable camera.

Funk said so far he has only tried the drone in his apartment. The pilot on the ground will operate the drone and camera separately, so coordinating the effort will take some time, he said.

Although seemingly useful, businesses that use drones face a number of restrictions by the Federal Aviation Administration. So The Bee is studying the rules before taking the aircraft to the skies.

For instance, portable drones will not be able to fly higher than a 40-story building. And the aircraft must be kept within eyesight. To help retrieve the drone from some distance, the model purchased by the Fresno Bee has a homing device on it.

Also, privacy issues will certainly crop up.

But the viable uses will likely grow.

Potential applications include future package delivery method by Amazon, an eye in the sky to prevent agricultural thefts and a quick source of eye-catching real estate images.


See related blog: Fresno Bee drone glimpse of the future