In the beginning, the drones constructed by Terry and Belinda Kilby fired spray-and-pray-style from the skies above Baltimore.
By shooting a photograph every two seconds, they were guaranteed a handful of good images by the time their miniature flying vehicles returned to Earth after a 10-minute foray — but only if they managed to keep their drones airborne. The married pair’s earliest drones were cobbled together, assembled on Arduino boards with sensors pulled from Nintendo Wii remotes.
“Of course you could just go out and buy a drone that’s ready to fly out of the box,” said Belinda, a 39-year-old painter and sculptor who now does digital photography full-time with the drones she and her husband build under the name Elevated Element.
And they do build their drones.
“We never really bought into the whole kit idea,” said Terry, a 40-year-old iOS developer at web design firm Cynergy in Harbor East.
(Scroll below for 10 of their photos.)
From a garage-turned-machine shop in Owings Mills, they use a CNC router, laser cutters and 3D printers to build their unmanned, multi-rotor mini-copters. The Kilbys have four drones in their aerial photography fleet, and are now on the 10th prototype of their original drone design. They’re planning to release one of their drone blueprints to the public.
Since 2010, the Kilbys have taken tens of thousands of photographs of Baltimore city using a camera mounted on the drones they’ve built. In support of “Drone Art: Baltimore,” a new collection of the Kilbys’ drone photography, the couple is displaying their original drone images at the World Trade Center in downtown Baltimore.
“It all happened because Belinda saw potential in what I was doing in the yard one day,” Terry said. “I had a little store-bought RC helicopter, and put this little tiny camera up in the air.”
Prints of their photographs typically sell for $50.
Terry flies the drones, while Belinda takes the photographs: as Terry maneuvers closer to each target, Belinda looks through a small monitor on the ground, angling the camera, adjusting Terry’s navigation, and precisely timing each shot.
This summer, the Kilbys taught the two-week “Aerial Pursuits” class at the Digital Harbor Foundation‘s MakerCamp. It was familiar territory for Belinda, who was a Baltimore City Public Schools teacher for 10 years.
“We have a full curriculum that is Common Core-based and Maryland state Department of Education STEM standards-based,” Belinda said.
And, as one would expect, they taught students to build drones from scratch.
“At some point, you’re going to crash,” she said. “So you should be able to repair it.”
Photos and descriptions by Belinda and Terry Kilby: