Event Tech: How can brands use drone technology?

As London gears up to host the UK's first professional drone race during London Tech Week, Event looks at how drone technology can be used for brand experiences.

NewSubstance - Luca Parisse for BWS
NewSubstance - Luca Parisse for BWS

How can drones be used for experiential?

Swarm drones are the next big trend in drone technology. They consist of a fleet of hundreds of drones, which are remotely controlled from one computer system. This new movement opens up further possibilities for experiential. 

Swarm technology can be used to create high impact visual messaging in the night sky, for example. Patrick O'Mahony, creative director at NewSubstance, says that when using swarm technology the company treats each drone within the fleet like a colour pixel in the sky. He says: "We employ RGB nodes beneath the drones, which we can control and write software for. This allows the drones to be choreographed into an aerial show, which leads to several avenues for experiential in terms of logos and messaging in the air. By using such a large number of drones, the visual impact for the audience could hugely increase brand engagement."

Callum Gill, head of insight and innovation at creative agency DRP, says that drones can also be used as 'autonomous waiters'. Gill refers to the moment when the founder of cloud computing company Salesforce used a drone to deliver bottles of Coca Cola directly to the stage of his keynote speech in San Francisco, and believes this idea can be expanded further. Drones could be used to deliver items directly to guests at events, so as to make for a fuller experience. 

How brands are using drones

Intel brought drones to Coachella this year, using a fleet of 300 drones to create a light show for festival goers. The experience aimed to replicate a vision of shooting stars, and used drones that had been created specifically for that purpose - to be used as part of a spectacle and create an experience. The drones themselves had been made out of plastic and foam, featuring a single light bulb, and were remotely controlled to create different shapes in the sky. 

NewSubstance has been working with Dubai Parks and Resorts, a new theme park in Dubai. The event production company staged an experience for the park's opening, which incorporated a swarm of drones that used brand colours and messaging. The drones ended the show with an imitation of a three-fingered salute, representing the popular greeting common to Dubai. 

NewSubstance - Dubai Parks and Resorts for and behalf of Action Impact

Gill mentions the Mountain Dew and DR1 Racing Drone Race experience, which kicked off in 2016. Mountain Dew sponsors the DR1, which sees drone pilots don VR headsets to remotely control drones through complex courses, and the experience is broadcast on global sports networks. The brand was also able to transform this phenomenon into a live event called Day of the Drones, which saw guests arrive at a warehouse-style studio space in Brooklyn, New York, to witness live drone racing featuring top drone pilots. 

The Drone Racing League is exapnding its reach, and will be making its London debut as the headline event during London Tech Week. The race will be the culmination of the 2017 series, and will allow viewers across Ireland, Italy and the UK to tune in to view the eight competing pilots race in first person view around London's historic Alexandra Palace. 

What are the challenges regarding drones?

The biggest challenge when using drones is getting permission. Each country has a different aviation authority and, in the UK, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has taken a lead in creating a drone-friendly template that other countries are starting to sign up to - but it's a slow process. Gill stresses that, if drone footage has commercial applications, permission will have to be acquired from the CAA every time. 

Other issues simply revolve around practicalities and logistics. A fleet of drones require a large take off area, and when operating in cities this can be difficult to manage. As well as this, there are safety restrictions such as not being able to fly within 100 metres of people, and 50 metres of buildings - and, when considering drones for brand experiences, these factors can cause problems with pre-production. 

What's next for drones?

Drone technology has started to specialise and diversify as its uses are discovered by different industries and sectors. Patrick O'Mahony says: "It's only in the past couple of months that the technology has become a viable option for the entertainment market, and I think we'll see huge growth over the next year to two years in terms of what we can do, the number of drones we can fly and what we can attach onto drones in terms of pyrolyser and more lights. At the moment we're at the very start of the new era of what these vehicles can do."

More: Event looks into data gathering technology used by agencies across the world of experiential. 

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