Unlike their larger, commercial airliner cousins, small private aircraft aren't required to be equipped with flight data recorders. As a result, many pilots don't bother with them, in order to save money. A new system could change that, though, by utilizing computer vision tech for a cheaper "black box."

Traditional flight data recorders have to be physically connected to an airplane's various gauges and controls, so that the necessary information can be acquired. This requires a considerable amount of hardware, and a complex installation process. Twenty-six year-old Canadian electrical engineer Ephraim Nowak set out to develop something simpler, after being part of a search-and-rescue team that tended to the crash of a small plane that had no recorder.

The result of this experience was the SkyVU system.

It incorporates two cockpit-located 4K video cameras, which are mounted behind the pilot facing forward. These continuously record the displays on all the gauges, along with the pilot's activity (including their voice) and the view out the windshield.

After each flight is over, the video is downloaded to a computer running custom software designed by Nowak's company, Percept Systems. Utilizing machine vision algorithms, that computer is able to actually read the gauges in the video, digitizing those readings and matching them up to the pilot/windshield visuals.

"This feat has never been accomplished before," says Ephraim. "In addition to assisting when something goes wrong, we find it's quite useful to have video from a troubleshooting and training perspective as well."

Nowak's invention recently earned him an award from Mitacs, a Canadian non-profit group that fosters growth and innovation for business and academia. Plans now call for SkyVU to be trialled this summer in two Rapattack forest fire-fighting helicopters, with a commercial rollout possibly taking place at the end of the year.

We're told that the retail price should be at least one third that of traditional systems.

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