Greg Agvent with CNN is Conducting Research with ASSURE on Using UAS to Cover News
August 17, 2016
By Tristan Navera
Dayton Daily News
Want your work to appear on CNN? Maybe you ought to buy a drone.
Greg Agvent, senior director of news operations of Atlanta-based CNN, said 15 months after Federal Aviation Administration named it a testing partner for unmanned systems, it's seen a dramatic change in how drones are seen by the public.
"We're at a place in time where we're scratching the surface," Agvent said at the UAS Midwest Conference in downtown Dayton. "Things have changed dramatically."
CNN's project worked in tandem with several other companies, including BNSF Transportation, on the FAA's "Pathfinder" project — testing some of the first commercial uses for unmanned aircraft. In the case of CNN, the project explored news gathering in urban settings.
"It's a cultural, fundamental change and that's a real challenge," said Marke Gibson<, senior advisor, UAS integration for the FAA, of the Pathfiner program. "We are making progress. I'm seeing movement in the past 12 months that we haven't seen in awhile."
CNN has worked with drone industry advocates and helped map how the aircraft can be flown in densely populated places — something the FAA otherwise prohibits as risky. But Agvent said that's led it to get the "drones' eye view" of news other technology just can't match.
"We've built the foundation, concepts of operation, operation manuals, risk assessments, all of that is a firm foundation as we go to the next steps," Agvent said.
Over 15 months CNN has done about 50 flights, with drone footage adding production value, enhanced storytelling and news and context for stories on disasters, war zones and remote parts of the country, most with third party vendors flying quadcopters including the DJI Phantom, Parrot models and the Altus Delta.
"There is a model in broadcast media," Agvent said, noting CNN hired two licensed pilots this week. "We will have our own people but we will continue to use third parties for some of our coverage."
CNN has 22 satellite trucks positioned around the country, for example, but they're rarely in the right place at the right time. Having third-party operators with experience and the right equipment on their craft could be a valuable asset as it looks for local footage in places its news teams can't get to quickly. He expects it to want to make deals with more of these kinds of businesses.
And the industry will need to adapt craft to news needs. Some ideas CNN has had for news drones include abilities to autopilot home, tolerate failure of one motor and defense against hijacking. For the news business, craft could be developed with broadcast-standard cameras with a robust HD wireless connection. CNN has discussed these kinds of technologies with private industry, from cameras to drone "parachutes."
"If you build something that meets the need for a niche market, there will be buyers for it," Agvent said.
Dayton Daily News Original Story