Send in the Drones: More than just Aerial Event Photography

The use of drones in society is becoming more and more commonplace, with Amazon’s fleet ready to take to the skies and deliver your books, DVDs and cat toys, as well as the ever-increasing use of aerial drone photography (the unbelievable potential of which is fully realised in the BBC series Planet Earth II). Tie-ins with smart-tech projects in other industries also promise to continue to contribute to the rise of the drone. It won’t be long before drones are delivering online purchases to the boot of your car while you’re at work, opening and shutting it remotely.

With its march towards ubiquity, the drone is obviously being utilised by event professionals to enhance the photography and videography at their events. Utilising drones to capture spectacular aerial views of delegates and event activity is still not common enough to be boring or expected, but there are also a multitude of seldom used drone concepts which you can deploy to further enhance your events.

Yes, they have cameras

You can of course use drones both in- and outdoors at events to capture content. The point-of-view style shots are great for post-event marketing and live playback at the event but there are other camera-based concepts you can use with drones at events. You can look at live presentation content from different sites, for example. Say you are launching a new store, venue, stadium, theatre or office: mid-presentation, you can switch to a live stream of your drone and give the audience a fly-through of this other location. A piloted drone can also promote interaction as you can ask your audience what they would like to see next rather than sticking to a specific route.

Other types of aerial camera drones also exist beyond the multi-bladed model that almost always springs to mind. Dirigible drones exist too and, while providing the same aerial photography experience, can have their balloons branded and add a bit of the unexpected to your event environment.

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Beyond the Lens

There of course are more largely untapped opportunities which can be accessed by the use of drones at events. Software exists that can actively measure your crowds, estimate attendance, heatmap exhibitions and analyse footfall and travel patterns. This is a post-event analysis goldmine as, rather than relying on surveying and unreliable delegate memories, you can see how they voted with their feet. What stands did they visit most? Which breakouts were most popular? Were people in the main plenary when they should have been? The potential for this sort of analysis will only improve as the technology does.

Speaking of technology, with the underside of the drone reserved for camera equipment, larger drones have a top-level platform which can also be used to help alleviate a commonplace delegate complaint at events: poor Wi-Fi. Drones can have routers and signal boosters mounted to their backs and act as roving relay points for your network. Either your own closed network or cellular data services can be amplified, ensuring better connectivity, particularly useful at outdoor or remote events.

Dumb Waiter

We all know the capacity for drones as robotic mailmen, but what about their use as autonomous waiters? Salesforce Founder Parker Harris weaved drone delivery into his Dreamforce Keynote, having it deliver a coke directly to the stage. This concept could be expanded further with delivery to delegates onsite. If your guests can purchase things live at the event, why not have it delivered to them by drone, using their phone as a beacon?

The word Drone, as we are using it in this context, has effectively been subbing for Aerial Drone. Drones can also function just as happily on the ground so there’s no reason why land-based drones couldn’t wheel around the event floor delivering items, delivering kit during set-up and cleaning up afterwards (Roomba anyone?). Of course, there are health and safety logistics to manage here but, as speed, control, manoeuvrability and intelligence increases and cost decreases, this is a very real future for drones at events.

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Need for Speed

We’ve explored drones performing event functions (filming, setup derig etc), but what about drones as part of the entertainment and engagement themselves? Rapidly gathering fans and enthusiasts is the sport of drone racing. Piloting drones remotely with VR headsets through dazzlingly illuminated courses is even being broadcast on global sports networks. Mountain Dew, who sponsor a drone racing league, brought the experience to a live event audience at Day of Drones – in my mind a perfect example of the potential drones have to become part of the event content, not just record it. Specialised courses, branded drones, and teams could help gamify event content in a supremely engaging and cost-effective way.

Rise of the Machines

And now the small print. Of particular concern is how drones record events, analyse data and then how that data is subsequently used. People’s dials are already set to sceptical at the mention of the word and so cautious event planners may be mired in a sea of red tape, consent forms, and post-event complaints if drone use isn’t carefully planned and executed. Aerial drones operate in the sky and, in the UK, we have the CAA. This means drone use in outdoor space is regulated and the CAA have a handy guide to let you know what you can and can’t do. If you want your drone footage to have commercial applications then you need to apply for permission from the CAA every time. Any good aerial photography unit will be doing this as a matter of course, but because of the strange crossover zone between camera and vehicle that aerial drones inhabit, a lot of people take to the skies without the right permissions and this can render everything you’ve captured at best worthless and, at worst, illegal. There are insurance concerns and addendums to risk assessments which also must be considered, which is why you are best to work with an experienced agency if you’re a brand and why agencies are best to work with experienced operators.

There is red tape and justifiable public concerns around drones but many of these things are commonplace with the birth of a highly useful and applicable technology. Ultimately, the march towards drones as an event mainstay cannot be halted now, so the sooner we  planners get to grips with the legal aspects, the sooner we can start delivering awesome drone-driven experiences at events.

Callum Gill – Head of Insight and Innovation at drp

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