Drone Technology & Venues

In the second post in our three part series on attendee privacy and venues, we outlined some essential best practices that venue managers can use to guide their efforts in balancing the privacy concerns of attendees with the desire of exhibitors to learn as much as possible about who their customers are and what they want.

In our final post, we’ll be taking a closer look at one particular information gathering technique that is becoming as popular and sought-after for organizers as quickly as its raising red flags for attendees: Drones.

It’s easy to understand their appeal to organizers and exhibitors. At this point, anyway, drones are still uncommon enough to carry a certain “cool-factor” with them as they hover above a show floor, capturing photos and video of all the action down below. However, the use of drones at trade shows, conferences and other large events presents several challenges for venues and clients alike when it comes to attendee privacy, safety and the existing laws that govern their usage.

Privacy concerns for attendees mirror more general public fears about invasion of privacy as it relates to drones. Understandably, no one wants to feel as if their every move is being watched and recorded, nor will they accept having little information about where images and footage of them is going in addition to having no control over how it will be used.

For venues, the best way to stay ahead of the issue is to insist that organizers and exhibitors explicitly disclose any plans for the use of drones in the registration paperwork along with the inclusion of a consent release for captured images and footage. Better yet, encourage clients to also describe how that information is likely to be used in an effort to put attendees’ minds at ease.

Perhaps even more than privacy issues, safety is another major concern when it comes to drones for events and venues. That is ultimately, what led to the last-minute ban on drones at last month’s South by Southwest festival in Austin, TX. In a statement announcing the policy on their website, they explained that “While SXSW may make exceptions to this policy if the drones are used within certain trade show areas where safety measures such as tethering to the ground are implemented, the airwaves and/or frequency spectrums generally used in the remote control of drones are too congested during the SXSW event to ensure operation safe from interference."

Aside from network interference, drones also pose a potentially serious threat to event security. Citing the present lack of any effective system for interfering with drones already in use over crowds or large events, many security officials have expressed concern that drones could easily be modified to carry explosives or biological weapons that could render them a nearly unstoppable weapon.

Another obvious concern about drones is that they’re only as safe as their pilot is capable. Event photography professional, Jules Clifford, suggests that the safest way to operate a drone at an event is to require that the pilot remain within eyesight of the equipment vs. operation from an off-site monitor.

“If the monitor loses connection, then I can’t see what I’m doing. So we don’t necessarily fly it where the pilot doesn’t have eyesight with it and can't tell depth of field.”

Even with the pilot on foot behind the drone at an event, there’s still room for human error. That’s why it’s also important for venue managers to verify that pilots are properly insured.

Along those same lines, before agreeing to the use of drones in or around their venue, venue managers need to know the lay of the land in terms of their own liability in case of injury as well as any local or state laws that govern drone usage. As the industry awaits a final ruling from the FAA on commercial drone usage, several states have enacted their own regulations. The national rules from the FAA are expected this fall, but in the meantime, venue managers can check the status of drone legislation in their state on this map.

Certainly, the use of drones shows great promise in creating a more lively and far-reaching, interactive experience for attendees. As long as all involved are careful to set strict standards to guard attendee privacy and safety, drone technology can be a truly mutual benefit for all.

This blog was originally posted on Social Tables

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