Call it the up, up and away Peter Pan flight drive that exists somewhere in all of us, or just the wow of a new and dramatic technology that will impact our lives in a variety of perhaps unanticipated ways. Drones are providing thrills and new perspectives to events—if you're willing to navigate what can be a jungle of obstacles.
Flying drones, otherwise known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are taking off at industry events mostly as flying cameras, yet speculations are rampant about what's on the horizon. Among the uses people imagine: deliveries to exhibit booths, attendee registration processing and security surveillance chores.
More recently, Orange142 and partner Avean Media were contracted to fly a drone above the Barton Creek Golf Club and inside the Austin Convention Center to film footage during the opening general session at DMAI's 2015 annual convention in mid-July.
DMAI 2015, Austin, Texas (Video Credit: Orange142)
Other industries are already integrating drones on a regular basis. Professional sports teams are filming practice games. Several Hollywood movie companies have gotten necessary waivers for outdoor uses from the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA), and real estate, construction and agriculture companies are also putting the technology to work. Lifeguards have even engaged drones to spot sharks in Pacific coastal waters this summer.
Event sponsors are realizing the brand ascendancy that's possible with drones—let’s just say it’s a major step up from event bag logos and other traditional display vehicles. Put your name on the show drone and everyone will replay and remember it for a long time, or give virtual venue tours to clients.
More ideas abound, and are seemly limited only by human imagination, the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA), venue hosts and local ordinances.
New Perspective on Events (Video Credit: redbutton.tv)
"Drones are about creating fun, sticky, sharable content that will live beyond your event and make sure people want to see, view and share it," says Sam Stanton, president at redbutton.tv. "Drones lift the image of a brand or event, making it look cutting-edge, trendy and out in front. Helicopters come down to 200 feet at the lowest, drones fly at jib height—about 20 feet—and produce angles previously unavailable."
Richard Reid, vice president of business development for Freeman, a meetings management company, says his company uses drones to do fly-through facility tours.
"We are using drones in close to 50 different facilities as a way for people to view venues,” Reid says. “We never want video footage to replace a site visit, but it is helpful to people in narrowing down the number of facilities they want to consider. Also, they don't have to actually go to a site four-to-five times to see detail."
Freeman Plantour Preview (Video Credit: Freeman)
Another way Freeman has brought drone perspectives to customers is by filming a show that's all set up but closed for the night and devoid of people.
"We can capture how everything is built out in a space like banners, signage and sponsorships," he says. "It captures the essence of an event, and those who have used drones for this purpose have declared it well worth the money they've spent to attract exhibitors."
Looking to the future, Reid speculates drones will provide rapid delivery service for tradeshow buyers, personal valets that guide attendees to specific booths, and high-resolution drone photography live-streamed from exhibitor hot spots to non-attendees.
The International Association of Conference Centres’ (IACC's) October Europe Knowledge Festival in Milan, Italy, is likely to experience drone flights, according to IACC CEO Mark Cooper.
"We will be doing small campfires outdoors at the venue for peer-to-peer sharing of ideas," Cooper says. "Our plan is to have a drone with a camera travel between the groups, hover over them to capture activity, and beam the content back through a social media feature and video at the closing dinner. We expect that to provide some great memories of the event."
Attendees at InterDrone, a September conference in Las Vegas for professional photographers who use drones, will see the show's chairman Ted Bahr receive his opening remarks onstage from a flyer. Drones will also record the show for promotional uses.
"Using drones indoors is often easier now than sending them off outdoors," Bahr says. "Drones are highly regulated for outdoor flight, in that they must operate certain distances from airports, no higher than 400 feet, and a variety of other regulations that restrict our airspace. But indoors, flights are regulated only by the facility."
That said, some DMOs have already used drones outdoors for marketing purposes. What better way to show off a destination's best, Stanton asks.
Banff, Alberta (Canada) Drone Footage (Video Credit: redbutton.tv)
Wherever you launch, waivers and permissions are must-dos. Some complain drones are noisy, fraught with liabilities, and dangerous in inexperienced hands. Also, they frighten some people. Yet planners and organizers who are willing to navigate the regulations and other potential obstacles report impressive event returns.