Lincoln, Neb.-- UNL Professor Matt Waite began researching drones as a journalistic tool in Nov., 2011.
In late 2012, Waite and his team used a university drone to cover the drought in the Platte River. The drone allowed them to gain unique video angles and perspectives for their story, according to one researcher.
But, it was that story that put Waite and his team in the Federal Aviation Administration's sights.
The FAA has now grounded all outdoor test flights pending a permit application.
Waite said because he is affiliated with a public institution - the university - he has to abide by laws requiring them to have a permit to fly unmanned aerial vehicles in rural areas.
But, Waite is actually looking at this news in a positive light.
"I think this is a real opportunity for us to learn about the rules from the inside," Waite said.
That's because Waite said he sees a lot of potential in the use of unmanned drones, especially in the future.
Waite said, although it may be several years, unmanned drones could be used by reporters and journalists in the field to cover natural disasters and environmental hazards.
"The rules on drones in the next few years are going to change so much," Waite said, "and they're already changing now."
Waite said he and his team won't be able to fly drones inside restricted air spaces or cities like Lincoln.
While they wait for their application to go through, which should be in the next few months, Waite said he wants to explore drone applications where he can.
Prior to the FAA telling Waite to ground outdoor flights, Waite said his team followed hobbyist laws, the same ones people use to fly remote controlled air planes and helicopters.
But, the FAA said because of Waite's university affiliation, those laws don't apply.
Ben Kreimer, one of Waite's research assistants, said applying for this permit has allowed them to learn more about the FAA's rules.
"I think we're another voice," Kreimer said, "that will help create a climate with UNL, journalists and the FAA can all get along."
Waite acknowledges there's a lot of controversy involving the use of these drones, and said many view them as prying eyes and don't have a place inside city limits.
The FAA also grounded a similar program at the University of Missouri.