Blue-sky thinking on drones

Gavin Sheridan
5 min readMay 5, 2015


When I worked at Storyful my colleagues often slagged me over my apparent obsession with a few things: drones and drone technology, satellite imagery (and other possible satellite applications) and other automated newsgathering systems (my own startup is one such system).

But pretty much every brainstorming session started with the first one: drones. Of course the context of those meetings was usually their future application for the news industry — but my thinking on the issue was far broader.

For me this thinking was always brought to the fore by natural disasters. I watched many, many natural disasters vicariously through the lens of witnesses to those disasters — watching many thousands of hours of eyewitness content from hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes — all too often content from the poorest parts of the world.

When watching these events unfold I would often wonder at how these were often actually anticipated — we did not necessarily know the precise time and location of the event, but we often knew it was coming. This leads you to think about the future, and how the combination of pre-preparedness and technology could perhaps give us a sense of how these disasters could be handled in the future.

Following recent events in Nepal, I wanted to write down some of this thinking. There are practical limits to some of what I write, but I believe these limits to be surmountable — and my time horizon is the years 2020–2030. My other proviso is that I have zero expertise in aid or the provision of emergency aid in natural disaster situations. This is merely a thought exercise.

There are a few different types of natural disaster in poorer countries (and I’m focussing on poorer countries primarily because more advanced economies are better able to handle post-event aid).

  1. Anticipated natural disasters affecting high-risk countries.
  2. Anticipated natural disasters affecting low-risk countries.
  3. Unanticipated natural disasters affecting high-risk countries.
  4. Unanticipated natural disasters affecting low-risk countries.

In any of these 4 situations different preparing might happen. There might pre-built operations in high-risk countries, with low-risk…



Gavin Sheridan

Founder/CEO @Vizlegal | FOI, journalism, law, data | Former Innovation Dir @Storyful | Dublin, Ireland