Inaugural Update - 11/12/15

Welcome to the Drony Express update group! As I assume most of you know, my brother Nick and I are working on a venture that aims to employ drones in Alaska, which we actually call K2 Dronotics (K2D). Our primary aim is to provide a low-cost solution to advanced data gathering. This is potentially exciting in Alaska, especially, as many regions are remote and generally inaccessible. However, drones may help open up these areas to further exploration while also improving the monitoring of our current resources and industry.

A secondary aim is to develop hardware to help us execute our primary mission. What sort of tools, mods, or flight hardware will we need to develop to succeed? These are some of the questions we are asking, and will continue to ask, as we get the service business up and running.

The purpose of these updates will be to first and foremost let a few of my close, intelligent friends (that's you people) see what we are up to. I also hope that they are stimulating and a bit of fun to read. My secret plan is that writing these will increase my accountability to this new venture. Hopefully they will also improve my focus and discipline and act as a sort of outlet for idea vetting.

I hope that if something catches your eye in one of these updates, that you'll reach out to Nick or I and let us know. Whether good, bad, constructive, or destructive; we'd like to hear what you think. If for any reason you get enough email, let me know and we'll take you off the list! If you think someone else would be interested in seeing this, let us know. We are kind of trying to employ the concept of a Mastermind/Roosevelt Tennis Cabinet/Henry Ford Vagabonds thing where outside perspectives, criticisms, and ideas make the final product better.

This is the longest one of these I'll likely write since we've been working a little while than just one week up to this point. So don't get scared, they won't all be this long. Now to the meat and potatoes…

The TL;DR: an executive summary

Up to this point, we have been working pretty hard on nailing down all the paperwork, regulations, technology, markets, and basic offerings that are required to setup any business.

We have also been meeting with potential future partners, clients, and small business leaders in the state to hopefully improve our chances of success.

We have reached out and spoken with the UAF/FAA drone research partnership, with little positive effect, but their cooperation is only needed for future experimental flight ideas; right now we can teach ourselves and they may become future competitors.

Did you know: It is currently illegal to operate a drone for hire! Our 36-page FAA exemption request (called a Section 333 exemption) was submitted October 5th. We expect a ruling around the end of the year, meaning for now we must develop our technical offerings without pay. It's gonna be a "thought that counts" kind of Christmas this year haha.

Our current main focus is developing our initial service offerings and practicing as much as possible to become proficient in tough scenarios and to learn the nuances of the hardware and software we work with.

Completed and Upcoming Work

Business Development

  • LLC formation, business licensing complete.
  • FAA paperwork is submitted. There is no option to expedite. Currently expect a decision around the end of the year. Should we be denied for any reason, appeals are possible. However, precedent looks good for us.

Hardware Development

  • We want to fly smaller, cheaper drones in all types of weather. Currently looking at procuring a "test drone" that we can modify and then subject to cold, wet, conditions to see how it holds up.

Initial Service Offerings

  1. Visual inspections and Modeling
    1. There is strong oil & gas presence in Alaska. Inspecting towers, buildings, tanks and more (especially in hard to reach areas) can keep humans from danger and complete the job quickly.
    2. We will output a 3D model made of the pictures, which will highlight potential problem areas.
    3. Examples we are working on: Swanson bridge, Bennett's Solar Tower
  2. Small area surveying and DSM’s
    1. We can create a topographic map and digital surface model to do volume measurements, surface measurements, and more.
    2. This is hard in winter! Requires differentiation in the images to stitch them together.
    3. Examples we are working on: Cap’t Cook State Park, large volume quarries
  3. Videography/Photography
    1. Real estate
      1. Example cases: Beth's House fly around
    2. B-Roll Footage
      1. Example cases: Edited videos of Alaskan wilderness in winter
    3. Marketing
      1. Example cases: Flying a lodge and edit into a marketing video for them

Over the next few weeks we be working through the list of these potential service offerings and executing on the example cases listed. I will likely share them here and ask a ton of questions to see how they strike you folks for usefulness, production value, and to see what other things they need, or applications they have!

The Spotlight: Cool Stuff

I was caught by the drone while mapping and partially rendered by software. The result is slightly terrifying. It has become the manifestation of my existential nightmare.

I was caught by the drone while mapping and partially rendered by software. The result is slightly terrifying. It has become the manifestation of my existential nightmare.

A Drone Wolf in Winter: Flying out by 20 Mile River south of Girdwood, AK.

A Drone Wolf in Winter: Flying out by 20 Mile River south of Girdwood, AK.

A 4K video from a DJI P3 Drone flight. This is taken down on Island Lake up to 150 ft AGL to see the sunset from lakes out to the Inlet.

Challenges and Questions

  1. How will we effectively waterproof complex hardware such as cameras and instrumentation, let alone the drone itself?
    1. Drone we can likely plug up and coat with a superhydrophobic coating. Not too worried here, and the brushless motors are water rated.

  2. Is it too low rent to just bag the camera and other instrumentation? What other methods can be tested?

    1. We have a wide variety of initial services, which speaks to the versatility of drones and the need for us to try many things and go where the money is. But what applications are we missing?
  3. We can create maps, 3D models, and do surveys with only a drone, camera, and special software. What other areas can this be applied?

    1. Photogrammetry sucks in winter. Someday, we'd like to have LiDAR to make maps and models with. But until then, we are brainstorming ways to make photogrammetry work better in snowy areas.
    2. Spray painting markers or a grid could work, however mars the landscape after we leave.

    3. Temporary colored stakes could help create diversity in the images, but may be labor intensive.

    4. What other ways are there to break up a continuous, white, snowy scene, as seen from about 100 ft above?

I hope that this was interesting! I plan to keep it up. If you have opinions or ideas about the content, our business, or anything else just email/call and say hi.

Ben Kellie | bmkellie@outlook.com | 907-252-8661 (cell)