Drones are slowly but surely becoming part of the equation for emergency services for jobs like search-and-rescue or avalanche prevention. Australia’s taking things a step further, thanks to the introduction of a long-range helicopter drone to help with a very Australian problem.
Little Ripper is a modified version of a military drone, and has the kinds of specs you’d therefore expect: flight time of two and a half hours, range of 100km and a range of daytime and infrared cameras. The plan is to use a fleet of Little Rippers to patrol the beaches and coast of New South Wales, relying on human operators and pattern-recognition algorithms to detect shark attacks. The drones aren’t there just to observe, either — they can carry payloads such as liferafts, defibrillators or positioning beacons.
The overall mission is interesting on its own — New South Wales saw 14 shark attacks in 2015 — but it’s also a watershed moment for drone operations. Current commercial uses of drones are limited to within visual flight range, a few kilometres at best. Little Ripper will be operating in airspace shared with manned aircraft, and the success or failure will set the stage for future rescue missions — and yes, Amazon’s long-term plan to bring you a pair of shoes with a drone.