January 7, 2012
It may not sound like much: A video blogger bought a toy helicopter.

But the blogger is 25-year-old Tim Pool — an internationally known journalist who attracts tens of thousands of viewers to his live-stream broadcasts from Occupy Wall Street protests in New York, DC, LA and other cities. (His feeds and archival footage are also aired on mainstream networks such as NBC.) He and his partners hope that the toy chopper — the $300 Parrot AR Drone — will be one step toward a citizen-driven alternative to mainstream news.

Having thoroughly figured out how to cover giant events from ground level, they are now exploring ultra-cheap alternatives to the hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollar news choppers used for aerial reporting of big events like protest marches and police clashes. In the process, the video bloggers are discovering both how far low-cost consumer technology has come and how much farther it needs to go.

Like the HD video cameras now included in the livestreamers’ cellphones, aerial surveillance drones have progressed from ultra-expensive professional gear to impulse-buy items. What was once in the Pentagon budget is now at Toys “R” Us – in a simple form, at least.

“The AR Drone is the first toy that came out,” said Sam Shapiro, a programmer from Brooklyn who is helping Pool put together the airborne news network. He says he doesn't identify with the Occupy protesters, but does support their goals.

Shapiro got involved after watching the arrests of over 700 Occupy demonstrators at the October 1 Brooklyn Bridge march. “While I can’t be involved in stuff like that, I don’t want to see my friends being beaten up because they don’t have tactical knowledge of what’s going on,” he said

More on this at Wired.

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