Woods and UAS NZ Win Christchurch Aerospace Challenge


In partnership with UAS NZ (Unmanned Aircraft Solutions), Woods was selected as the Christchurch Aerospace Challenge winner and awarded a $30,000 contract with Christchurch City to trial and validate their solution. The Aerospace Challenge was designed to provide expert support and financial resources to enterprising teams to improve the New Zealand aerospace industry.

The current way in which aerial images are captured is slow, laborious, and costly, which has hindered New Zealand’s cities and regions from making important decisions. This challenge was looking for a revolutionised solution to this process.

The winning team was comprised of Woods’ Intermediate Surveyor and UAV Specialist, Maksym Khovalko and UAS NZ’s Bevan Lewell, an Air New Zealand pilot, aircraft engineer and drone consultant. The two paired their expertise and delivered a system that would become a big step forward for New Zealand’s aerial imagery capturing process. However, both soon recognised the wider benefits of their solution.

The team proposed a new mapping system that couples the best of drone technology with the operational flexibility of manned aircraft. After being selected as a finalist and given $10,000 and six months to bring their device to life, Bevan and Maksym got to work. Bevan acted as the technical lead for developing and certification of the mounting system, and Maksym was responsible for the mapping component of the pod.

Their idea was born during the Canterbury floods in 2021 after Jacinda Ardern posted a fly-through iPhone video of Selwyn Huts from the helicopter. Bevan and Maksym converted that video into an orthorectified image, which showed the full extent of the flood in that area. Later it triggered some discussions with Environment Canterbury around mapping such events within 48-72 hours or at its peak.

From there, the team developed ‘The Rapid Mapper’, a portable system based on a multi-sensor setup that can live stream imagery and ready-to-use orthomosaic from the aircraft to HQ. This would give councils the ability to receive processed images in real time, something which would be especially beneficial in the event of a natural disaster. Its compact, fully self-contained design means it can be fitted to an aircraft quickly and fly under weather that usually prevents traditional aircraft and satellite systems from being able to operate.

The ‘set and forget' autonomy means the system can even piggyback on existing support flights, eliminating the need for specific mapping flights.

Beyond this, Maksym saw collaboration opportunities with industry experts to add AI functionality so the pod could eventually identify and label features as an additional output.

Alongside contributing valuable equipment, Woods has also invested in future-proofing the system and is set to build a commercial solution.

Maksym says, “Our idea is to develop this solution into a commercial product and offer consultancy services regarding aircraft mounting certification, sensor integrations, data collection and processing as well as training for its use during emergency response.”