Eric Cheng flies a drone over the audience at the 2015 Apartment Internet Marketing Conference.

Eric Cheng flies a drone over the audience at the 2015 Apartment Internet Marketing Conference.

When most people hear the word drone, they think of military air strikes they’ve seen footage of on CNN.

Eric Cheng imagines new perspectives.

Perspectives that can’t be captured on camera without agile, stable drones equipped with hi-definition video equipment. Perspectives that the apartment marketers in attendance at the 2015 Apartment Internet Marketing Conference would love to use while marketing their apartment communities and developments across the country.

“I’m an underwater photographer by trade, so my motivation was to get perspectives that I couldn’t get any other way,” Cheng said during his Ultimate Fly-By aerial video presentation at AIM. “It’s about capturing unusual perspectives.”

The possibilities for new perspectives are many for apartment marketers by trade. With drones, apartment marketers could provide prospective renters and residents views of apartment communities and new developments that they couldn’t capture any other way.

It’s an opportunity that just three years ago was hardly even imaginable. Drones were simply a hobby, designed for consumers to build and fly in local parks alongside remote control planes and helicopters.

That’s evolved quickly over just the last few years, due to the advent of mobile technology and a desire to utilize drones for more than just fun weekend adventures with the kids.

“What happened?” Cheng asked the audience. “They were smart phoned. Smart phones know what orientation they’re in and what direction they’re facing. As part of the development of smart phones, there’s also been a miniaturization race that has made components smaller and cheaper over time. They’ve been commoditized.”

That’s allowed drones to become smaller, lighter and more agile, while enabling them to utilize existing mobile technologies, such as tablets, as viewfinders. And with the miniaturization of gimbal technology, which TV news crews have been using on helicopters for years, drones have become commercial-use ready for capturing video and photography.

“The early drones felt like you were flying a remote control helicopter,” Cheng said. “Now you feel like you’re flying a camera.”

Although there are some regulatory and legal hurdles, Cheng says many of those are already being worked out through Section 333 exemptions many companies in other industries have already begun exploring. “They’re basically applying for permission to fly commercially under the same rules of man flight, but asking for exemptions,” Cheng said. “And hundreds of exemptions are already being granted.”

Those exemptions, in turn, are granting drones room for a new brand identity, as marketing weapons instead of  military weapons.

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