52°F
weather icon Mostly Cloudy

6 things you didn’t know about CNN’s drone program

A DJI drone flies in this file photo. Associated Press.

CNN may have the most advanced drone program of any news outlet in the U.S. The network’s senior director of aerial imagery and reporting, Greg Agvent, recently visited Las Vegas. Here are six things you probably didn’t know about how CNN uses drones to cover news:

1. CNN typically flies DJI drones

The standard drone CNN gives its pilots is the Mavic Pro. The network also flies the Phantom 4 Obsidian, Inspire 2, and two Matrice 210s. Those drones are manufactured by DJI, which CNN prefers for camera quality. The network is also looking into using DJI’s Mavic Air, which came out earlier this year.

CNN also uses some non-DJI drones:

• The Skydio R1, which is fully autonomous and sports 13 cameras. Says Agvent: “It’s going to change the way we tell stories.”

• Vantage Robotics’ Snap, which is lightweight and comes apart on impact. It’s the only one the Federal Aviation Administration has allowed CNN to fly over people.

2. CNN has flown over people only a few times

Since October, when the network received its first waiver from the FAA to fly drones over people, Agvent estimates CNN has flown over crowds just four times using the Snap. The Snap’s disadvantage is that it can’t yet stream live video for CNN. 

Kittyhawk software allows drone pilots to manage risk and see conditions before taking flight.

3. The company has $50 million in aviation insurance

CNN also has three full-time pilots and more than 20 others who fly as needed, Agvent said. The network uses software called Kittyhawk to manage its drone program, pilot risk, and local flight conditions.

4. Cops frequently ask to pilot

Agvent said the first person to show up at every drone flight is generally a police officer.

“All he wants to know is ‘who are you and do you have a right to be here?’” Agvent said. “Generally the next question is, ‘can I fly?’ The answer’s always no, but we give him a baseball hat and we make nice.”

International locations where CNN has flown drones

5. The most challenging place to fly

CNN reports flying hundreds of missions in 20-plus countries. The most difficult government to coordinate with? Madagascar. The island’s government requires that drones be flown by the government’s local pilot, Agvent said. He also said one of the spots CNN most wants to fly in but can’t is Washington, D.C.

6. CNN wants to use drones for more than just video

The news network is experimenting with:

Computer modeling: CNN is exploring how to use data from its drones to create 2D and 3D models of areas it flies over.

• Thermal imaging: CNN recently added dedicated cameras to two of its drones that detect body heat to locate people in the dark.

Virtual reality: The network 3D-printed its own mount to connect a VR camera to a drone.

Live graphics overlay: The company recently tested graphics overlaid on drone footage in realtime, allowing labels of roads, people, and places to float on screen for context. See footage from CNN’s testing below:

Send your questions and feedback to hkeely@reviewjournal.com and follow me on Twitter: @HarrisonKeely.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST
How does a $100 smartphone compare to a $1,000 flagship?

If you buy a smartphone for $100, how much are you really missing out on compared to higher-end phones? I recently tested the new Alcatel 1X and pitted it against an iPhone X (pronounced “ten” – fitting because it costs ten times more). It is undoubtedly impressive how much you get for $100, nowadays. Now […]

Apple is taking longer to release hardware updates

Waiting on Apple to update a gadget before you make an order? It’s not your imagination – the time between Apple’s product updates is getting longer. Using data from MacRumors’ Buyer’s Guide, I tallied the average days between hardware updates for Apple TV, iMac, iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, MacBook Pro, Mac Mini, and Mac Pro. I chose […]

How the Welcome to Las Vegas sign has changed over the years

The “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign you see today isn’t exactly the original. Perhaps that’s to be expected in a desert where violent winds and blistering sunlight can take a toll on any plastic, but it may surprise visitors who pose with one of the most photographed signs in the world. First, some backstory: […]

Data plans are a hot mess – here’s how to fix them

When I bought my cellular-connected Apple Watch, I was stunned to find that carriers charge $10 per month for data. That’s an extra $120 each year to shoot emails and texts to my wrist. Then I found out that $10 per month doesn’t allot additional data, but instead siphons my iPhone’s existing ration. To top […]

Wires marring Las Vegas sign photos need to go

It’s possibly the most photographed sign in the world. “There is probably no bigger Las Vegas icon than that sign,” said Clark County Commission Chair Steve Sisolak. Behind the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign lies the Strip, rows of palm trees, and – depending on your camera angle – up to 12 power lines […]

What Apple’s nav bar evolution says about the company

Remember iReview or iCards? Those tools once occupied coveted space atop one of the 100 most-visited websites in the world: Apple.com. Both were short-lived products. Most changes to Apple.com are gradual. Rather than a splashy periodic redesign that overhauls everything, the site tends to evolve so gently that changes are barely noticeable. A cursory review […]

In a digital age, why aren’t restaurant grades in search results?

Recently, my dad’s cousin (whom I haven’t seen in seven years) visited from North Carolina. He was in Las Vegas for just one night and invited me to pick a spot for dinner. I asked a friend for recommendations; I researched options online. I read reviews and scoured menus. I opened Google Street View and […]

Your digital assistant could be a better student

At my last newspaper, I gave tours of the press. Whenever someone asked a tough question, I’d try to find the answer for them. What I wouldn’t do is apologize and forget about it. Yet that’s exactly what our digital assistants – Alexa, Cortana, et al. – do. When our virtual assistants don’t know an […]

We don’t know what Siri’s capable of, and that’s a big problem

You want to find an app or create a folder. Do you do it yourself or summon Siri? If you’re like me, you probably try to accomplish your goal sans Siri. That’s a stunning fall from grace for the once-extolled digital assistant. When Siri was born eight years ago, she was smart. Now, she’s entered […]

150+ things Siri still can’t do for you

With all her shortcomings, it’s come in vogue to inveigh against Siri. But how short has she really come? I was curious why the bodiless voice that seduced us at launch no longer satisfies expectations. So I put Siri to the test and assembled a list of skills one could reasonably expect by now. Alas, here’s a […]