Ben Kellie

Founder of K2 Dronotics and the Launch Company


Please provide a personal bio for other members to get to know you

I am a mechanical engineer by training (MS, OSU 2012) and have worked in some capacity for SpaceX since graduation. I started off as a Launch Engineer helping to design and develop systems on their west coast launch site as it was being built, despite knowing nothing about, well, anything. Through hard work and many misadventures, I was fortunate to work my way up to Lead Engineer for that site by the start of my second year.

After our inaugural launch, I saw that options for advancement were limited and the site was leveling out a bit. I was more experienced, but still quite young & foolish, so I left and started a hardware company focused on developing handheld thermoelectric generators for backcountry adventures. The idea was you could set it next to a campfire, or on a sun baked rock, and make enough power to fuel your GPS/phone/radio/etc.

I was about four months into that and was approached by SpaceX saying they had an 8-week long build project that they'd like me to run as an independent contractor. Desperately needing money, since my arrogance and naivety had quickly painted me into a corner, I jumped at the opportunity. Long story short, this became the development, build, and operation of the drone ships Just Read the Instructions and Of Course I Still Love You. Eight weeks morphed into eight months of living in hotels, going out on sea missions, rebuilding exploded barges on 24-hour shifts, doing trips overseas for mission critical parts, and all sorts of other adrenal gland destroying shenanigans. At this point, I was asked to come back on full-time and manage the group, but declined for myriad reasons best kept to myself.

I chose instead to move back home to Alaska and launch a engineering startup focused on deploying transformative technologies across remote Alaska. I loved the work SpaceX was giving me and I loved the teams I worked with, however I had come to realize that I worked best in the 'chaos stages' and wasn't content to allow the exponential function to roll over.

Alaska is a historically boom/bust economy and is going through one of its most sustained busts ever. People were beginning to speak seriously about how businesses built here could change the face of the state, rather than simply chasing oil and gas. It was important to me to start a company focused on efficiently using technology to bridge infrastructure gaps and to improve both commercial and social situations. From this plank, K2 Dronotics was created. K2D is a drone service and engineering company. We deploy drones in the harshest, most remote parts of the state to gather critical data for industry and government. We have helped traditional industries cut costs in their exploration and operations, while also helping remote village councils quantify climate change. We have been operating now for two years and our focus in 2018 is to go big or move onto the next opportunity.

We have been operating on a few different fronts: flight services, training clients to fly their own missions (such as remote village councils), and also continuing to consult in aerospace to SpaceX and other launch startups. We are doing 'fine' but many of our current opportunities have expiration dates. We need to figure out how to scale what is scalable and shed dead weight. I look forward to working with everyone at Unreal to mercilessly and honestly hone our offerings, while staying laser focused on best serving our home state of Alaska and its citizens.

Please provide an overview of the project(s) you'll be focusing on for the next 12 weeks as part of Unreal Collective.

In summation: growing K2D's base offerings to get a sustainable revenue engine while evaluating the above projects as our 'big bets' going forward.