Shark-Spotting Drone Debuts In Australia

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.

Premier Mike Baird attended the drone’s launch event, and touted its “innovative” nature as a way to keep Australian beaches safe. As the Sydney Morning Herald reports, Mr. Baird predicted that should the trial prove successful, every lifesaving club in New South Wales could eventually find itself with access to the drones. He also pointed out that an academy is being established, which will properly train lifeguards to use the drones.

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.

Last year, the drone program was announced amid rising fears of shark attacks along the Australian coastline. As the Inquisitr previously reported, Australia saw 22 unprovoked shark attacks last year. Of that number, 14 incidents occurred in New South Wales, including the year’s single fatality. Repeated calls for action led the NSW government to announce a $16 million (US$11.4 million) shark management strategy, which was unveiled in October of last year. The plan encompasses the drone program, as well as 4G listening stations. It is also intended to test newly applied technologies like sonar buoys, as well as an upgraded (though still controversial) form of baited drumline.

How good is this – #thelittleripper a #shark spotter #drone that can also drop in rescue supplies.

— Lee McKerracher (@LeeMcKerracher) February 28, 2016

Westpac, which sponsors the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter Services, announced the drone trial on Sunday. In addition to testing the drones’ capabilities for spotting sharks, the trial will help ascertain their suitability for the coastal regions of Australia. Initially, the trial program will be focused in Northern New South Wales, specifically around Newcastle, Hawkes Nest, and Byron Bay.

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]