by Michael J. Shapiro | August 01, 2015
Bird's-eye view (pictured): Drones provided a dramatic perspective for coverage of SMU Caribbean 2014 in St. Thomas.
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"Drones are the cool thing now," says Ted Bahr, co-founder of Melville, N.Y.-based BZ Media. In fact, he is set to launch his first conference about the devices, InterDrone, in Las Vegas this September, which is expected to draw more than 3,000 attendees. "Twenty-five years ago, 18-year-old tech geeks were programming Windows," notes Bahr. "Fifteen years ago, they were programming open-source code. Ten years ago, they were developing social media, and five years ago they were building apps. Today they're building flying robots."

While these remote-controlled marvels, technically known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), have made headlines for their use in combat, they are more commonly used by videographers and photographers, and they are slowly but surely making their way into the meetings and events industry.

And what could be cooler than flying robots? With the wow factor so high, venues and show organizers are looking for creative ways to work drones into their events. Following are some examples, as well as caveats to keep in mind.

High-flying drama
Planners should have a motive for using a drone, says Robert Gonsalves, CEO and founder of UAVUS, the largest association of drone operators in the United States, with 3,200 members. "There are some very cool things you can do with UAVs," he notes. "But first ask the question, 'What exactly am I trying to accomplish?'"

For most planners, drones simply provide a neat new approach for event videos or photographs. Some UAVs come with high-resolution cameras built in, while others have mounts for more inexpensive options such as GoPro camcorders. "UAVs are wonderful because they deliver a perspective you can't get otherwise, and they do it at a cost that's affordable," says Gonsalves. Previously a helicopter would be necessary to get sweeping bird's-eye footage of large spaces; now drones allow for breathtaking shots to be taken from the ground.

"We've found there's a way to use drone video to really give a different perspective," says William Collins, vice president of product management for Freeman, the Dallas-based provider of convention services and technology. "You can really capture the essence and drama of an event or space in a way that wasn't really possible before."