Australian Lifeguards Are Getting A $250,000 Drone To Spot Sharks

Australian Lifeguards Are Getting a $US200,000 ($279,710) Drone to Spot Sharks

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.

[Daily Telegraph]


    Seems a lot of money for a single drone

      If I was to take a guess, it would be in the range of $10.000 and upwards.

      Mine cost over $40k, and there are plenty north of $100k.

      Well worth it when you rely on it commercially. I've completed over 1000 missions in three years with mine and only had it come down three times, all because of wedge tail eagles, not because of mechanical failure.

      Professional drone vs consumer is a BIG difference, and that is in reliability and support.

    Over on Delimiter, they ran a 2 or 3 years ago about a drone operator in Tasmania. It gave some really great footage of the fire at the time.

    From then on I have always thought that drones had a natural role to play with emergency services, being accidents, search and rescue, fires, or whatever. Their roving nature, and freedom of movement have some big benefits in those areas, and are well worth the cost.

      A helicopter like this, would certainly help the SES in a land and search rescue operation. It would give the team members an extra set of eye, that can see from a very different perspective. It would not only reduce the SAR time but make the search more effective.

      Last edited 04/03/16 3:34 pm

        Two examples. Picture some hikers, lost in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. Or any location for that matter, I just know the Blue Mountains have some pretty rugged terrain, and stories of lost hikers pop up every year or so.

        So, some hikers get lost, SAR ongoing to find them. Helicopters flying overhead have a lot of area to cover, and are generally operating at a height that can make spotting someone difficult. Enter the drone, that can follow up on possible sightings far simpler, and far closer.

        Or the obvious example of bushfires. Firies want to know the extent of a fire, and can really only gauge the firefront with any certainty. Have fire trails and backburning done their job? Is there still danger to properties on the fringes?

        There are just so many possible uses, I wonder why this is a story at all, and not a common feature. Would be interesting to get the emergency services side of this, and whether they've tried to get these drones into action before.

          I work as a volunteer for the SES and occasionally do SAR. Its certainly very difficult to spot a person or even an object from a certain distance, especially when the airplane is travelling fast. It makes the job much more challenging and therefore increasing your chances of missing something, that's right in front of your eyes.

          On the other hand, a drone could have a camera scanning and picking up anything that it sees as a potential target, much more faster and accurate than the human eyes.

          Last edited 04/03/16 3:46 pm

            Thanks for that, interesting insight. We have the state HQ down where I live, and its a pity I didnt think of this earlier as I had a friend that was working there on contract until recently. Would have been interesting to see what the formal thoughts were.

            I see this as the future anyway, its more a matter of when. Theres just so many positives for using them.

    "pattern-recognition algorithms to detect shark attacks".
    Wouldn't it be better to recognise the shark before it attacks?

    As far as shark detection from drones, we already have that technical capability - see this short YT demonstration of some awesome technology developed at least in part by my old faculty UWA (University of Western Australia) computer science folks.
    The obstacles I'd see in its way though, are more human: who is going to pay for it, who is going to manage it, which beaches will be the lucky recipients, and who will sign on the line to be responsible when inevitably someone sues due their incorrect assumption that the solution is foolproof.

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