by Michael J. Shapiro, Sarah J.F. Braley, Lisa A. Grimaldi and Michael C. Lowe | January 01, 2015
Ours is an industry teeming with creative new developments, many serving to ease the travel experience, facilitate the planning process or maximize the value of meetings. Following is M&C's nod to 20 notable innovations that are shaping and improving the meeting experience. Not all are brand new, but we believe they will play increasingly significant roles for our business in the new year and beyond. (Did we miss something? Add your own favorites by commenting below.)

Beacons/location tools
Location-based functionality typically has been a tricky thing to accomplish with much accuracy inside a convention center. GPS is notoriously unreliable on a trade-show floor, and developers have had varying degrees of success using other methods. Enter Bluetooth low energy, or BLE, part of the wireless Bluetooth protocol available on most current smartphones. When used with inexpensive, signal-emitting beacons positioned around a venue, location-based marketing and mapping is now far more easily attained.

Apple made headlines by introducing what it calls iBeacon, but you don't need Apple products to make it work. While later-model iPhones and Android devices can act as beacons if desired, third-party beacons that are far less expensive than a smartphone can be programmed to send signals to iPhones and smartphones running other operating systems.

New event apps are emerging that take advantage of the technology, such as The Live Group's Locator function in its Greengage mobile app, which won the EIBTM 2014 Technology Watch. Locator can help attendees find their meetings, relevant booths, co-workers and prospects, as well as automatically check them in upon arrival to the venue. Several other event apps are experimenting with beacon functionality as well, such as DoubleDutch's session check-in feature and its Networking Nearby function, which alerts attendees when a "person of interest" is in the vicinity.

Purposeful drones
Drones -- unmanned aerial vehicles -- have landed in the meetings and events industry. Event production company Freeman, for example, is using them to conduct virtual site inspections (drones capture real-life, in-room images of meeting spaces) for Plantour, its web-based planning tool. On the event side, photographers and videographers are using drones, like DJI's Phantom Series with attached GoPro cameras, to capture unique overhead images of parties, receptions and ceremonies. Look for more drone functionality in the future.