Drone technology already has a role in college journalism courses.

Tiger One sits on the ground like a hubcap-sized, four-legged spider. Or maybe a Lego-colored prop for a sci-fi movie. In minutes, journalism students will try to pilot this thing they call a J-bot, but the world knows it as a drone. They’re not computer engineers or information technology experts.

They’re future story-tellers learning how a cheap technology can enhance their reporting with a bird’s-eye view of a story. The national media has zoomed in on the University of Missouri journalism drone class in recent weeks.

Is this yet another dimension of the coming of the drones, the future tool of the celebrity-chasing paparazzi? For now, the Federal Aviation Administration is holding them back, along with hundreds of other business applications, creating frustration over lost opportunities. In five years, experts predict, more than 10,000 drones will be working overhead for American businesses.

Some say the number might soar as high as 30,000. That’s a lot of cameras staring down, some with infrared imaging, swiveling to see ever more. Every day advancements are made in the technology. As the machines become more weather-proof, with longer battery life, lighter, smaller, even bug-sized, the list of possible uses — and concerns — grows.

Drones for “commercial” use are strictly banned, and the FAA has a certification process for applications beyond hobbyist uses. Several hundred certificates have been issued, mostly to government entities and to commercial operators and universities for “experimental” purposes. “Europe and Asia are flying rings around us,” said Patrick Egan, a director at the Remote Controlled Aerial Photography Association.

Already, he said, Japan has issued 14,000 drone permits — mostly used for farming. Last month in London, 30 quad-copters flew in formation above the darkened London Bridge.


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