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Introducing Sunlight's Transparency Drone

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The Sunlight Foundation's Transparency Drone on a mission near Speaker Boehner's office on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C.
Photo courtesy Speaker John Boehner.

After years of waiting for the technology and regulations to catch up to our goals, we’re finally able to unveil our latest project: Transparency Drone.

Transparency Drone is a semi-autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle that will allow the public to access real-time data on the activities of Washington’s influence peddlers on an unprecedented scale. This project is a result of diligent research involving dozens of prototypes and we’re proud to release our quadcopter into the wilds of Washington and beyond. Following the recent congressional interest in drones, Sunlight is opening the conversation by now allowing any citizen to follow their member of congress from above, attend all those exclusive fundraisers and zip through the halls of the hill.

microphone hanging from a transparency drone between members of congress
Transparency Drone in stealth surveillance mode.
Photo courtesy Talk Radio News Service.

For the most pertinent and elevated perspective on politics follow the Transparency Drone’s twitter account and share your ideas of where it can head next. (We can promise you’ll never see us in Politwoops!) It is surveillance by the people, for the people. So what's the legality of this? "An unmanned drone flying the skies of Washington, DC? What madness!", you are thinking to yourself. Without our lawyer around or access to the secret DOJ Office of Legal Counsel memos, we can only assume that there is a redacted opinion text entitled: "Interpretation of Sunlight Foundation's Proposal for a 'Transparency Drone' to Fly Around the Country Under Semi-Autonomous Control of Twitter Replies: It's a Great Idea!"

The Transparency Drone represents the latest effort by Sunlight to apply cutting-edge technology to give citizens information that the government won’t:

  • For years, we’ve been waiting for for the Senate to begin filing campaign disclosure forms electronically so voters can have a clue, sometime before Election Day, as to who is in their elected representative’s pocket. With Transparency Drone, the delay is over: Now, we can update Influence Explorer as soon as we capture the lawmakers schlepping their paper files into the Senate Office of Public Records.
  • Lobbyists seem to be equally unaware of the dawning of the 21st century. Altough the technology exists to post lobbying disclosure forms as soon as they are filed, the men and women who are trying to influence your representatives only have to report their activities four times a year. Enough, already! Drawing up flight plans from Political Party Time, we’ll be able to see the schmoozing and bundling live!
A Sunlight Foundation lab coat works diligently on the circuitry and advanced code behind the new Transparency Drone.
Solder all the electronics!

Sunlight Labs technicians have inhaled the fumes of thousands of feet of solder during the creation of Transparency Drone. We've created the most advanced surveillance quadcopter available in the 48 contiguous states: 2 Arduinos, 5 Raspberry Pis, and 10 2.2 megapixel Kodak EasyShare DX3500s for stunning hi-res images. The audio system has been licensed from the industry leader in digital signal processing, Margolies and Carbaugh International Computation Supplies Inc. Finally, we strapped on an Android-based mobile phone with the most basic data plan available and took to the big blue skies.

A Sunlight Foundation lab coat tests the microphone capabilities for the new Transparency Drone.
Testing our new TransparenTone™ audio technology.

The quadcopter is designed to fly long ranges at supersonic speeds, so we’re not going to be limited to tracking influence Inside the Beltway. (Can you say Paris Air Show?) Stay tuned for the partner Drone Docket™ mobile app (iOS, Android, BlackBerry 10, and Windows 8) that will allow anyone to follow scheduled appearances of Transparency Drone. We plan to get an inside look on fundraisers that we know about from the Political Party Time calendar and perhaps hover over the Organizing for Action headquarters in Chicago. Just who are President Obama’s big benefactors?

To cover the costs of its voracious power needs and ridiculous data caps, Transparency Drone will also be available to stand in line for committee hearings for any individual or company, at a flat rate of just $50.

The, um, sky’s the limit when it comes to future plans for our Transparency Drone. Already we’re envisioning live overhead shots of Washington’s cityscape with Sunlight data overlaid to make the centers of influence transparent. Alas, so far, no one has awarded us the Google Glasses we need to make this dream a reality. Donations anyone?

Happy April Fool's day from everyone here at the Sunlight Foundation.