a real thing. Drone-borne advertising is coming to one major media market -- Philadelphia -- and could soon be whizzing around other big U.S. cities, thanks to the efforts of a startup founded by a
DroneCast, the brainchild of 19-year-old Drexel University student GauravJit Singh, attaches advertising banners up to 6 feet long by 2 feet wide to small, four-rotor
drones, weighing about three pounds, which then hover or cruise around areas with heavy pedestrian or automobile traffic at a height of about 25 feet. That's well below other aircraft but safely above
terrestrial obstacles like traffic lights.
The automated drones are equipped with GPS and can be programmed to fly along a particular route using an iPad app created by Singh and his
collaborators, including pauses to dwell in particularly promising locales for specified lengths of time.
DroneCast is pitching the system to local Philly advertisers and already has five
clients signed up to test the drone banners.
One of Singh’s many creative ideas for the drones involves having them cruise up and down skyscrapers within visual range of the
windows allowing a local restaurant, for example, to advertise lunch specials to the office workers within. (They have a maximum altitude of 1,200 feet.)
It’s not hard to think
of potential obstacles. The Federal Aviation Administration, for one, has shown itself leery of sharing airspace with private unmanned drones and is currently working on rules to govern commercial
applications, like journalism. On the other hand, some startups are already touting drones for advertising in areas like video production, where they can, in theory, provide aerial footage at a much
lower cost than a helicopter video crew.
Of course, drone advertising could also run into trouble with activists who oppose outdoor advertising in general, including aerial
advertising, as “visual clutter” with negative aesthetic impacts. Other critics have attacked digital out-of-home advertising as a dangerous distraction to drivers. Also, drone advertising
could be criticized on similar grounds.