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Illustration: Andy Potts
Techno-files
New technologies are transforming the way you exhibit and connect with attendees. This last installment of our two-part series (part one can be seen here) examines three more technologies that we predict will make an indelible impact on the exhibition industry. By Charles Pappas
In 1952, experts at two trade shows – the International Congress on Astronautics in London and the American Chemical Society – predicted the demise of most diseases and the ascent of rocket ships as the common man's mode of transportation by the year 2000. The forecasters' crystal balls may have been a bit cloudy on those wonders, but other marvels have appeared that eclipse them for sheer awesomeness. You'll see what we mean in the second of a two-part series in which EXHIBITOR magazine takes a look at the technologies bringing the world of tomorrow to the exhibit and event industry today.

Drones
What is it?
Defined as an unmanned craft that can navigate autonomously or by a remote without direct human control beyond the line of sight, drones have an ever-increasing variety of military, business, and consumer functions. Drones first developed as instruments of war with the United States' Kettering Bug, a flying bomb with 15-foot wings of cardboard and paper-mache, powered by a 40-horsepower Ford engine. But in recent years, drones – now often called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – have navigated the bridge from bloodshed to business. Currently, they can be broken down into two main categories: rotary drones like the Da-Jiang Innovations Science and Technology Co. Ltd.'s (DJI) Phantom 4 Quadcopter and fixed-wing drones such as Parrot SA's Disco. Rotary-wing drones take off and land vertically, allowing their users to operate in small confines if necessary. With current battery technology, they are limited to around 20 to 30 minutes of flight time between battery changes or recharging. In contrast, drones with fixed wings need a runway for takeoff and landing, while their superior aerodynamic design aids their stability in choppy winds. Generally gas powered, they tend to be able to spend more time aloft.

While marketers commonly use drones for event photography, aerial entertainment, product delivery, and more, there are legal restrictions they must navigate. Most of the aforementioned activities are allowed in the United States because the Federal Aviation Administration sometimes grants exemptions from the standing regulations on drone use – such as the rules that prohibit flying drones above 400 feet and beyond the sight line of their human operators, thus limiting their ability to travel long distances. And last December the FAA began requiring that all drone owners register UAVs weighing more than 0.55 pounds and less than 55 pounds through either an online or an offline paper-based process. (If a UAV weighs more than 55 pounds, it must be registered using the paper-based system.) Drones flown only indoors, however, need not be registered, as the FAA does not regulate indoor UAV use. Marketers planning to use drones should note that FAA exemptions or waivers may take as long as 90 days to be granted.


How fast is it growing?
Adoption of drone technology is hitting Mach speed. Drone sales doubled from 2016 to 2017, according to the Consumer Technology Association, while the FAA has forecast drone-unit sales to grow from 2.5 million last year to 7 million in 2020. BI Intelligence suggests the worldwide figures are much greater, predicting sales of drones to surpass $12 billion in 2021, a figure comprising 29 million consumer shipments. A more general barometer of drones' insinuation into daily life can be inferred from a Pew Research Center survey that found 8 percent of Americans say they own a drone, and 59 percent report they've seen one in action.

The airborne vehicles have, like smartphones, become adopted for all manner of tasks and projects. Drones are now inspecting oil pipelines, replanting forests, monitoring animal migrations, and marketing products. For instance, the World Wildlife Fund and a Brazilian environmental group are using drones to monitor dolphin populations in the Amazon River, while Under Armour Inc. delivered 30 signed pairs of Curry 4 sneakers to customers via drones in San Francisco.

Where can you learn more?
"Drones for Dummies" delivers a quick intro to the fascinating world of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Another good launch pad for learning more about UAVs is the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) website, which supplies industry news, an economic outlook, and a list of companies being given the go-head to use drones. Droneflyers.com offers a beginner's guide with a handy glossary of terms and an e-book, "Getting Started with Hobby Drones and Quadcopters." To add to your knowledge, the Center for the Study of the Drone issues a weekly newsletter that updates subscribers on almost every conceivable development in UAVs. Finally, the FAA's registration and FAQ sites are a must-visit to keep drone activity operating aboveboard.
How are marketers using it?
Internal events for companies are often highlighted by team-building activities such as trust falls and rock climbing that, instead of constructing camaraderie, seem almost designed to turn co-workers into curmudgeons. To avoid that fate for an internal sales event held in a hotel in Lima, Peru, Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc. looked to the skies for a better solution.

Working with the Vibe Agency, the drug manufacturer fashioned an event where teams of salespeople had to work together to assemble a massive jigsaw puzzle of the firm's logo over several hundred square feet of indoor space. Dividing the 200 attendees into 40 groups of five people each, the company's six event staffers provided each section with 160 cardboard pieces. They then challenged guests to fit the pieces together, first in their own group and then, when they finished, take their completed sections and fit them together with the other groups'. To gauge their progress in a way that wouldn't otherwise be possible on such a spread-out scale, the company lofted a small Phantom drone made by DJI that took one person to operate.

While the miniature craft was airborne, an onboard camera streamed video of the teams' efforts to a 24-by-30-foot video screen. The midair perspective gave guests a better sense of how the dozens of pieces could fit together, as well as added a quirky touch to the team-building exercise. The company flew the drone in increments of 15 minutes, charged it for 15 minutes, and then sent it back up for another quarter hour. Guided by the bird's-eye view that offered a high-tech guide to what might have otherwise been a frustrating process for attendees, the groups assembled the 6,400-piece puzzle in 90 minutes.

Drones are often used for aerial photography to augment an event's entertainment activities, but Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. showed they can also be the entertainment. When the motion-picture titan geared up for the home-entertainment release of "Wonder Woman" last September at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, it wanted an event that would merit the descriptor "wonder" as much as the lasso-wielding superhero herself.

Working with Intel Corp.'s Drone Group, Warner Bros. decided to make Intel's Shooting Star drones the centerpiece of the event. Constructed of Styrofoam and lightweight plastics (each drone weighs a feather-light 0.73 pounds), the drones feature built-in LEDs that can create more than 4 billion color combinations. Further, they can collectively be controlled by one "pilot" working from a single computer. The Shooting Star drones had previously made a splash at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and set a Guinness World Record in 2016 for the most UAVs airborne simultaneously, with 500 at once. Playing off of the ability to fill the sky with hundreds of the aircraft, Warner Bros. and Intel choreographed a complex aerial dance that would evoke both the blockbuster movie and the venerable studio.

When the attendees – a mix of studio executives, VIPs, and media reps – took their seats in Dodger Stadium, they witnessed an atmospheric ballet that rivaled the synchronized swimming and dancing of old Esther Williams films. As Grammy-nominated acoustic/electric cellist Tina Guo played in the stadium below, 300 Shooting Star drones, sometimes flying as little as 5 feet away from each other, performed elaborately coordinated movements hundreds of feet above the attendees' heads. Their lights twinkling like stars, the drones morphed from Warner Bros.', DC Comics', and Wonder Woman's logos to the superhero's sword and likeness, along with a host of words – e.g., "grace" and "wisdom" – that epitomized her essence.




Geofencing
What is it?
Sometimes called proximity sensing or location marketing, geofencing refers to hardware and software that use technologies such as GPS, Wi-Fi, radio frequency identification (RFID), and Bluetooth low energy (BLE), aka Bluetooth Smart, to set up a virtual border – thus the metaphor of a fence – around a geographic location, for instance a store, neighborhood, or exhibit. The technology's origins lie in the livestock industry, where GPS units affixed to cattle allowed ranchers to receive a notification when a member of the herd ventured outside a defined geographic boundary.

In general, when a person with a given device – e.g., a smartphone or an iPad – enters or exits an established boundary, that person's device automatically triggers an activity on the geofencer's part, pushing a text, email, picture, etc., to the potential customer's phone. Depending on the type of hardware or software used, the radius of a geofence can extend from as little as about 60 feet to several miles. To receive those messages, however, customers must generally have their phones' GPS/location settings on and willingly opt in by downloading a company's mobile app or agreeing to accept an incoming communication, such as a coupon.

One hardware-based subset of geofencing gaining popularity is beacons. Beacons, now offered under a variety of names, including Apple Inc.'s iBeacon and Gimbal Inc.'s Gimbal, are small sensors – often not much larger than hockey pucks – that can be deployed throughout a location. Apps installed on a smartphone that listen for the beacons' signals respond when the phone comes within range of the diminutive devices, which generally use BLE to transmit data as far as 250 feet. (While the distance hinges on whether there are physical barriers between the beacon and the phone it is contacting, a radius of about 100 feet is a good rule of thumb.) Because BLE transmits via radio waves, it can penetrate physical obstructions much more efficiently and reliably than Wi-Fi.


How fast is it growing?
While geofencing has been around for several years, two factors account for the technology's continuing growth spurt. First is the viral spread of smartphones, which enables geofencing companies to identify and communicate with the potential recipients of their messages. In 2011, 42 percent of all mobile phone owners in the United States had a smartphone, according to data compiled by ComScore Inc. But by 2017, per the Pew Research Center, that number catapulted to 87 percent and continues to grow.

Second, with the proliferation of smartphones into daily life also comes increased user acceptance and comfort level for all aspects of mobile marketing and purchasing. According to Intuit Inc., 77 percent of smartphone users enable at least one of their apps to follow their location, and about 84 percent who receive special offers from apps use them.

A wildly diverse roster of hundreds of companies now use geofencing, including The North Face Inc., Sonic Corp., and L'Oreal S.A. To appeal to its demographic, Taco Bell, a subsidiary of Yum Brands Inc., pushes notifications to people under the age of 30 who previously downloaded the fast food chain's app and supplied their age. Whenever such users are within a set proximity of a Taco Bell, the software tempts their taste buds with a reminder that they can order right from the app and then cruise by to pick up their food.

By setting up geofences, exhibitors could interact with booth visitors by issuing welcome messages, updates when they reach certain location checkpoints, and even personalized reminders based on the previously determined interests of the attendees. Further, geofences can act as a supercharged survey and research tool by observing social-media activity within a given area and analyzing where prospects spend time in the exhibit, allowing marketers to gauge interest levels in various products.

Where can you learn more?
Software-maker Braze LLC's "When to Choose Geofencing, Geo-Targeting, or Beaconing for Your Location Marketing" will help businesses decide whether geofencing will aid in marketing their products and services. Pulsate offers two indispensable primers, "10 Things to Ask Geofencing Companies Before You Buy Their Platform" and "7 Things About Geofencing You'll Kick Yourself for Not Knowing," that will get anyone sitting on the fence about the technology up to speed. Geomarketing.com lists all the technology's red flags in "The Challenges – and Opportunities – of Location-Based Marketing," while Search Engine Land's "Location Based Geo-Targeting Boosts Paid Search Ad Performance‚?¶Or Does It?" looks at what metrics are most indicative of success in geofencing.
How are marketers using it?
With more than 25,000 attendees from 50-plus countries, the annual National Automobile Dealers Association event (NADA) is a traffic jam of exhibitors and showgoers. So Carfax Inc. wanted a tool for the 2017 show that would enable it to better connect with the droves of customers and prospects. To do that, it knew it needed to cast as wide a net as possible to promote its new used-car listings.

Joining with the marketing agency Jellyfish LLC, Carfax established a geofence with a half-mile radius around the show site, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. Befitting a company with 17 billion vehicle history records, the electronic boundary scrutinized every attendee whose GPS/location settings were on to find those who dovetailed with Carfax's database of potential and current customers. Once the company found those that matched its existing pool, it sent a message designed to lure them to the booth. Featuring the Car Fox, the brand's grinning canid mascot, the animated message asked recipients to play a stylized version of Plinko, the well-known price-guessing game on "The Price is Right." The digital missive displayed a coin that, when touched by a finger, randomly bounced down the message much the way the ball does on the game show. Once the coin hit bottom, another message appeared asking guests to come to Carfax's booth, where they could "win real cash" by playing a more elaborate version of the game. The idea, expanded on by Carfax's staff when recipients of the message made it to the exhibit, was that just as playing a game in the company's booth could win them money, advertising their autos on Carfax's used-car listings could win them customers. The geofence ploy at NADA worked, corralling 33 percent more traffic to the booth than the year before.

Geofencing can be a tool for information gathering as well. For the 2017 Abu Dhabi International Hunting and Equestrian Exhibition (ADIHEX), show organizer UAE Informa Middle East Ltd. wanted to collect and analyze attendees' attitudes regarding the event on the fly. To accomplish that, it chose to use a form of geofencing that would corral the data it wanted virtually the moment it was generated.

Working with a Fandealio Inc. software suite called Ampsy, which monitors social-media activities within a prescribed area, UAE Informa geofenced the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre to track the social-media posts produced by ADIHEX's 100,000 attendees. When guests entered the venue, Ampsy automatically started following the deluge of social-media chatter. If a post or tweet mentioned an exhibit, for example, or included the show's hashtag, the show staff could reply with additional information that the attendee might find helpful. Should guests pose a question or express dissatisfaction about some aspect of the show, staff could respond within seconds and lend assistance. (If a post/tweet had no mention of the event or hashtag, Ampsy simply added it to a dashboard for staff to review and decide if they should respond.)

Ampsy also allowed staffers to identify influencers who generated the most positive response to ADIHEX. The balance of monitoring/answering social-media activity created a positive feedback loop, wherein the more comments guests made, the more staff responded, and the more attendees would subsequently tweet or post. The attendees often included more show information, thus creating the impression of an event fine-tuned to their needs and spreading ADIHEX's reputation. While used by show management in this case, Ampsy and similar services could easily be scaled down by exhibitors of any size to gauge social-media responses toward their booths and products.


Conductive Ink
What is it?
Conductive ink is a liquid that allows a figure drawn with it to transmit electricity. Comprising four main components – a solvent, a conductive material, a polymer binder, and an electrical source, such as a battery – conductive inks can be applied to traditional materials and effectively turn them into electronic devices. When activated in some manner (often by touch), these enhanced materials might play a song, illuminate an illustration, or even warm a jacket, as was the case during the Olympic Winter Games last February in South Korea. During the opening and closing ceremonies, members of the U.S. contingent donned Ralph Lauren-designed parkas and bomber jackets coated with conductive ink. Using a smartphone app, the athletes could dial the heat up or down through the clothing's inked-on heating element. Currently, however, items featuring conductive ink are most prevalent in the automotive, health-care, and solar-panel industries.

How fast is it growing?
While conductive ink was mentioned by Thomas Edison, its development and adoption idled in neutral until a trio of recent developments. First, the price of copper and silver, two metals commonly used in the ink's manufacture, has declined steadily over the last few years. Second, advances in manufacturing processes have resulted in conductive inks with substantially better energy efficiency and durability. Third, consumer demand has created an ever-increasing market for thinner and more lightweight devices. All combined, these forces have made conductive ink a viable substitute for traditional wire circuits. Consequently, IDTechEx Ltd. believes that the market for conductive inks will reach $2.8 billion in 2020. Dovetailing with that conclusion is Markets and Markets Research Private Ltd.'s even more optimistic report that growth will reach almost $4 billion by 2021. This expansion will result in a proliferation of products, including wearable electronic readers, textiles, and even tattoos. Conductive ink pens now on the market, like the Circuit Scribe from Electroninks Writeables Inc., offer a rollerball-like stylus that uses a silver conductive ink to create fully functioning circuits.

For exhibitors, this could mean informational activations that shun routine screens in lieu of displays that combine hand-drawn art with illuminated, aural, and tactile interfaces. Additionally, business cards, posters, invitations, and other collateral common to trade shows could be turned into engaging electronic experiences with a simple touch.


How are marketers using it?
Walls by their nature are imposing. From the Great Wall of China to the Berlin Wall, such partitions have served as cultural stop signs to keep people away. But to promote its "Brilliant Commerce" technology at the 2017 National Retail Federation expo, Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions Inc. erected walls whose conductive-ink elements drew in, rather than drove away, attendees. Working with Exhibitus Inc., Toshiba wanted to highlight the ease and pleasure its technology can bring consumers. After constructing two 10-by-20-foot walls (and a smaller 10-by-10-foot one) for its 3,000-square-foot booth, Toshiba hand painted them with multiple illustrations that would help tell an engaging story about its tech. On one wall, which was divided into several vignettes ranging from topics such as mobile shopping to checkout, a simple touch of a finger might start a shopper's car zipping across the surface or activate a depiction of a high-tech checkout. Overhead, terms summarizing the benefits of the technology, such as "enriched shopping" and "actionable insights," lit up the wall with neon radiance.
Where can you learn more?
A good place to start is Applied Ink Solutions, whose site details the many uses of conductive inks and supplies a short but helpful FAQ section. Solid background information is on tap in The New York Times article "Hot Off the Presses, Conductive Ink is Replacing Bulky Wiring," while Popular Science's video "Invention of The Month: Conductive Ink" offers a quick-and-easy explanation of how the technology works. Meanwhile, Bare Conductive's website features several real-world applications of the company's conductive ink, including a hand-drawn boom box.
On another wall, also covered with a set of vignettes, grazing fingertips triggered a customer to pick up a pair of shoes, which caused bursts of light to travel from the shoes to a "smart" monitor that offered more information on the kicks. Further down, a shopper used an augmented-reality monitor as a cybernetic style advisor.

The final facade offered a van that attendees could tap, an action which prompted the vehicle to speed off as the words "Drive business results" flashed on the wooden surface. Toshiba staff also employed the walls as a narrative backdrop, using the animations to colorfully illustrate what might have been dry technical data.

Not all conductive ink has to be on stationary walls. When The Hershey Co. relaunched its Take 5 Bar, it found a way to put the tech directly in attendees' hands. Introduced in 2004, the Take 5 was a confection without an identity. Compared to the 124-year-old company's sweetened icons like Kisses or Milk Chocolate bars, the mix of chocolate, peanut butter, caramel, pretzels, and peanuts languished in a kind of sugary limbo. In order to change that perception – especially with Millennials, who exhibit less of a collective sweet tooth than previous generations – Hershey joined with Barkley Inc., IPG Media Lab, and Novalia Ltd. to create a conductive-ink experience that would remix perceptions of the brand.

Appearing as part of a Hotel Thrillist event in New Orleans (Thrillist, an online food, drink, travel, and entertainment resource, took over the Royal Sonesta hotel in the Big Easy and dubbed it "Hotel Thrillist" for a three-day bacchanal of food and drink), Hershey offered the mostly Millennial crowd deconstructed Take 5 bars in the form of ice-cream sundaes with a foundation of chicory-coffee ice cream and toppings comprising the candy's ingredients. But knowing that Millennials are more likely to be won over by a brand experience they can share, Hershey added what it called the Take5 Remixer, a kind of portable music remixer like those used by DJs from Moscow to Milwaukee. Looking like a 1980s calculator, the devices were made by Novalia, a Cambridge, England-based firm specializing in interactive print. The Take5 Remixer name did double duty, reminding guests of the sweet treat (each unit was accompanied by a candy bar), but also of a prominent part of the Millennial landscape: DJs and their ever-present remixing equipment. In fact, research by the Urban Land Institute and Lachman Associates LLC shows that slightly more than 60 percent of Millennials venture out to clubs, with the majority doing so for a specific reason, such as to see a particular DJ. Touted as the first-ever packaging in the United States to use conductive ink to generate music on the spot, the remixer offered five rows of three buttons capable of producing more than 30,000 unique sound combinations that could be channeled through built-in speakers. Hundreds of attendees jammed on the battery-powered devices throughout the night, producing impromptu concerts that continued long after the guests carted their music boxes home.



ON THE HORIZON
Even more astonishing breakthroughs were hurtling toward the marketplace at warp speed as EXHIBITOR and the Techno-Files series went to press. Uber Technologies Inc. plans a network of flying taxis in Dallas and Dubai by 2020 that may whisk you from hotel to convention center in mere minutes. Flexible lithium-ion batteries based on the design of the human spine will usher in an era of foldable electronics. HaptX Inc.'s augmented/virtual-reality gloves will convince users they're actually feeling textures, from soft grass and jagged rocks to squishy arachnids. The Hydrogen One smartphone from Red.Com LLC will produce holograms on the device's 5.7-inch display. Lastly, Intel Corp.'s new Vaunt smart glasses create the illusion of a data-rich screen hovering in front of you by beaming a laser directly into one eye.
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