(Photo by Stephen Babcock)
When Terry and Belinda Kilby started their drone photography business Elevated Element, Terry Kilby was building drones and controllers in his garage. He still has plenty of controllers and use for those original UAVs, but these days even he buys drones from third-party producers.
On a recent visit to their new offices in Owings Mills, Terry Kilby showed us a recent purchase that looks more like a plane than a robot.
The drone, called the E834, is capable of 100-minute flights that are much longer than a quadcopter, so he was happy to buy it.
The wider availability and increased capability underscores the fast growth of drones. On a public scale, the devices have dazzled YouTube viewers and perplexed regulators. But Kilby is looking long-term, and envisions this growth inevitably meaning bigger players getting in the unmanned flight business.
“Four or five years from now, the companies are going to have their own drones, and they’re going to collect their own data,” he said. “So then they’re going to have a need to process that data. We’re trying to become that go-to shop to have the data processed.”
The software development-oriented project resulted in a new company called Aerial Array. The company has a team of six, and is seeking funding to help build out its software.
Rather than sweeping vistas of Mr. Boh tower and the Domino Sugar sign, Aerial Array focuses on surveying imaging for industries like construction, mining and energy and agriculture. The imaging from drones can be conducted faster and allows industries to get an aerial view of sites where they used to be on the ground. Kilby offered the example of agriculture, where aerial data on crops and soil can give farmers insights that allows them to make more targeted treatments and, as a result, hopefully increase crop yields.
As the companies develop their drone capabilities, the grid patterns and linear flights likely won’t even require a pilot to fly.
“In the years ahead, the mapping side of things is going to be completely automated,” Kilby said.
As a result, Kilby doesn’t envision the Aerial Array team flying missions. Instead, they’ll be focusing on developing new methods for analysis, such as looking at a model through 3D imaging, or conducting an inspection with virtual reality through Oculus Rift.
“We want to set ourselves up to pivot along with the industry,” Kilby said.
But that doesn’t mean Kilby’s drones will be completely grounded. Automation is unlikely to take the place of humans for the more artistic shots that Elevated Element has perfected, so that business will continue. In fact, Terry and Belinda Kilby flew drones for an Air Jordan commercial featuring Carmelo Anthony inside the rec center that the Baltimore-raised hoops star funded.
For those types of situations, “No matter how good the tech is, you’re always going to need a skilled pilot,” Kilby said.
The roles of both companies will be on display atop the recently-opened AOL offices at Natty Boh Tower at a Drone Showcase the Kilbys are organizing on Monday, Sept. 28. The evening event is part of Baltimore Innovation Week.
Along with displaying info about the companies and showing off their mapping capabilities, they’ll be looking to fly the drones. (It’s a rooftop event.)
With their experience in the early days of a now-widespread technology, Terry and Belinda Kilby are looking to teach others about drones with a new book called Make: Getting Started With Drones. The husband-and-wife team will be presenting on the book at the event.-30-
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