Shark-Spotting Drone Debuts In Australia

Dustin Wicksell

Lifeguards along the Australian coast are about to get an assist from the sky, as a new model of drone specifically designed to both aid them and spot sharks is set to debut in the region.

The drone, known as the "Little Ripper," resembles nothing quite so much as a mini-helicopter, as Mashable points out. Battery-powered, the drones are capable of both spotting sharks off the Australian coast and assisting beachgoers who find themselves in trouble, by way of a specially designed pod that can be dropped to people in distress. As the Little Ripper is tailor-made for rescue situations, the pods can carry a variety of lifesaving items, including flotation devices, shark repellent, and even medical equipment.

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The Little Ripper is the brainchild of philanthropist Kevin Weldon, the founding president of the International Life Saving Federation, and is being developed in concert with Newcastle firm Skyline. It is a military-grade drone, known as a Vapor 55. More stable in crosswinds than other drone models, the Little Ripper also represents a cheaper and more agile alternative to a more traditional helicopter rescue. The drone is capable of one hour of flight time with a single charge, and its high-tech camera can be used for shark spotting in conjunction with a specialized algorithm that is currently in development.

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Last year, Newcastle was the site of repeated and extended beach closures, amid multiple sightings of large sharks of various species. The remains of at least one dolphin washed ashore, and lifeguards observed that one of the sharks, a great white, was "of a size" that had never before been seen in the region.

Though Mr. Baird said that it was premature to discuss what involvement the government could have in the program, he noted that they would be "open to ideas" following the completion of the shark-spotting drone's trials.

[Photo by Allan Lee - Own Work via Flickr | Cropped and Resized | CC BY 2.0]