A Palmerston North company is flying high, becoming the first in New Zealand to commercially sell unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
The University of Queensland is Skycam UAV’s first international customer, purchasing two Kahu unmanned aerial systems to conduct surveillance of mined land rehabilitation.
“They were amazed they could get what they wanted in such a short amount of time,” Skycam UAV director Rene Redmond said.
“Kahu was chosen by the University over systems from four other countries due to its operational features.
Within six months, the system was developed and modified to meet the University’s requirements
The system has a 2.3m wing span, 14 mega pixel camera with 10 times optical zoom, a thermal imaging camera, weighs 3.8kg and, powered by an electric motor, can be airborne for up to 90 minutes.
Using GPS navigation, Kahu operates autonomously with a range of 40km and can reach a maximum speed of 90km/h.
It is around half the price of rival systems and its reliability has been proven by five years in field service with the New Zealand Army, Mr Redmond said.
Skycam UAV is the first commercial manufacturer and operator that has sold the technology in and outside of New Zealand.
“It’s unique to the country and it’s a new export market,” Skycam UAV director Rene Redmond said.
“We chose not to out-source companies internationally. We want this New Zealand made.”
“New Zealanders are incredibly talented people. We can make this as good, if not better, than those systems overseas. We don’t need to be sheep.”
The company, formed in 1991, was originally based on aerial photography, and developed into providing technology for projects run by the army and Massey University.
In 2008, New Zealand’s defence technology agency (DTA) gave the company exclusive rights to market the auto-pilot system internationally.
“The future looks bright with another potential foreign sale progressing well. We are engaged with potential customers in Africa, South America and Thailand, and we were approached recently by US giant Westinghouse Electric to fly Kahu over the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant.”
Since its success, the company is planning to expand its premises and hire more staff to meet demand.
It currently has three full-time staff who can make one of the systems within a month.
The exports are controlled by the government, and the company had to work with MFAT to get authority to sell the product overseas.
“That’s what’s so exciting about this industry. It’s brand new.
“We are constantly breaking ground.”