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Highland Helicopters, a Taieri-based business co-owned by Paul and Kirsty Williams, has imported a unit that combines the likes of a megapixel still camera, infra-red camera, gyro stabiliser and geo-tracking technology.
The unit, worth close to $1 million, can detect a human from 2km away — useful when doing search and rescue — or lock on to a vehicle and track where it goes, with mapping technology and GPS to help out.
Mrs Williams said while there were aspects of the technology in use in New Zealand, the combination in the unit took it to a new level.
"There’s no camera in New Zealand that’s ever been at this level. This is leading technology."
The unit could also identify power leakage on power lines, or film such things as coastal erosion.
Doug Hall, a partner in the business and a Dunedin city councillor, said the company had not done search and rescue so far, but planned to become involved.
Mr Hall said the company had already talked to Red Cross and Search and Rescue New Zealand, and had been told the technology would "revolutionise the whole search and rescue side of it".
The camera was fitted to the helicopter last week, after it arrived from Europe last Tuesday.
"There’s nothing in New Zealand or Australia with all this technology together," Mr Hall said.
Mr Williams said once a hot spot in a fire, a person or an electrical line fault was picked up, the operator could programme the unit to "look at exactly that point" and track it.
Parameters could be changed on the detector, so it could look for certain temperatures during any time of day or night.
It could lock in and track an object while the helicopter was hovering or orbiting.
"When we talk with the police, they’re really excited.
"We can sit up at a height and see a lot that’s going on."