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Man versus machine: What does the rise of drone technology mean for marketers?


By Jonny Tooze | founder and managing director

May 5, 2015 | 4 min read

Drone technology is evolving rapidly, but commercial use is still hampered by extremely restrictive legislation. Things are (slowly) changing though, Lab founder Jonny Tooze tells us, which should be exciting news for marketers.

What does the rise of drone technology mean for marketers?

The world of drones is moving faster than any other industry that I can think of. The hardware is getting smaller, faster, better. Most of the software is being developed by the ‘crowd’ and accelerating at a rate that is officially categorised as ‘ludicrous speed’. Combine all this together and we now have a technology that’s on fire and an industry that’s predicted to be worth at least a zillion dollars!

At The Drum’s Disruption Day in London in 2014 I made a balls-out predication that we would see the first sanctioned drone deliveries in 2016. I’ve been called ambitious among other, slightly ruder things, and I probably was then, but my point was that all predictions around the technology have been based on current legislation and assume that the regulators will be uber slow to move. This is true to some degree, but we’ve seen some changes to the cadence in legislative spew recently.

After stating that the commercial use of drones is banned in US airspace, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) then almost immediately allowed Hollywood to start using drones commercially and has given Amazon limited permission to test its delivery drones, plus a whole raft of other permissions for other great ideas that are genuinely going to help society.

Apart from the fact that flying massive drones around is the most fun thing in the world, what really excites me about this whole scene is that tech and innovation is keeping the legislators up at night. So they are starting to play catch-up. Mainly because they realise that if they don’t, people will do it anyway. It’s like when cars were invented – they were so good everyone bought one, but no one knew which side of the road to pass on.

There’s also been a shift in the media. Rather than picking up on civilian drones accidentally killing grannies (it has happened, unfortunately), they are now focused more on some of the amazing ideas that are being showcased at events like Drones for Good in the UAE. At this event there were a huge range of ideas for the use of drones, none of which, refreshingly, involved blowing people up. Instead drones are being used in search and rescue operations ranging from forest fire fighting to searching for people using infrared sensors, or even delivering urgent medical supplies to remote hospitals.

After seeing some of the ideas it made me realise that once a drone saves a kid from drowning by dropping a buoyancy aid on their head, the media, and therefore the general public, won’t be able to get enough of this stuff.

What does that mean for marketers? Well maybe drones will move from gimmicky YouTube videos to something that can finally be considered in a sensible out-of-home strategy.

I think in this war, the drones are winning.

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