Using drones or UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) has been controversial since they've been deployed in combat against terrorism for the past 15 years, increasing the chances of killing innocent civilians.
Virginia Commonwealth University students have protested their school’s apparent development of drone technology for the military.
Now, Virginia Tech is helping develop drones for use by news media. CNN and 15 other media firms are working with Tech’s Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership to test drones for possible use in news-gathering at a test site outside of Washington.
Media groups interested in drone use include the Associated Press, NBCUniversal, Reuters, Getty Images, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Gannett, Getty Images and others.
Among the reasons why news firms are interested in using drones are that they don’t put journalists or helicopter crewmen at risk.
In 2014, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 61 journalists around the world were killed while doing their jobs. Seventeen died in war-torn Syria. The second-highest number, five, died in Ukraine, which is in a conflict with neighboring Russia.
But while drones can capture important imagery with less risk, they've also become a method favored by the military and CIA to kill suspected terrorists in places such as Yemen and Libya.
Two years ago, VCU students protested the School of Engineering’s development of military drones. It was said at the time that VCU was involved with “unidentified” government personnel at Fort Pickett, about 40 miles southwest of Richmond and with the Marine Corps at a field near Fort A.P. Hill.
So the use of drones really does matter. Rose Mooney, executive director of the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, says: “The research testing we are initiating will provide the news media coalition a safe and innovative way to gather and disseminate information and keep journalists out of harm’s way.”