A Kelowna entrepreneur is receiving an award today for an aviation invention inspired by the fatal plane crash that killed former Alberta premier Jim Prentice.
Ephraim Nowak, 26, has invented a first-of-its-kind lightweight cockpit video recorder that can serve as a cost-effective flight data monitoring solution for small aircraft.
He will be honoured today in Halifax by Mitacs, a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada for business and academia. He will receive the Mitacs Change Agent Entrepreneur Award.
Nowak is a former Mitacs intern in the departments of computer science and electrical engineering at the University of British Columbia, and founder and CEO of Kelowna-based Percept Systems.
His flagship product SkyVU combines high-definition 4K cameras and cutting-edge frames-per-second recording capabilities.
Mounted behind a pilot, facing forward, the system captures and digitizes aircraft gauge values as well as pilot audio and the view outside the windshield. Once a flight is completed, the footage is downloaded and analyzed, using software also developed by Percept Systems.
“This feat has never been accomplished before,” said Nowak, who came up with the idea for SkyVU as a search-and-rescue volunteer after visiting the site of the small plane crash that killed Prentice and three others in 2016.
“When that investigation report came back inconclusive because there was no data recorder on board, it opened my eyes to the fact that here’s where I can apply my skills to make a difference,” Nowak said in a news release.
Unlike other cockpit recorders that require connection to the gauges themselves, SkyVU operates on video only, making it simple to install and keeping the cost down. All that’s required is a connection to aircraft power.
This summer, a SkyVU prototype will be deployed on two wildfire helicopters.
Percept Systems expects to move into production by this fall with the aim of going to market by the end of this year. The company is also partnering with the B.C. Wildfire Service to develop an aerial mapping system.