Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water… it looks like it is! Around the coastline of Australia the latest drone technology is being used to spot sharks and help stranded swimmers.
While drones have been used for these types of applications in the past, the Westpac Little Ripper drones are using the Artifical Intelligence (AI) software, Shark Spotter, to distinguish between sharks and other marine life. An on-board siren can also be employed to alert swimmers of nearby sharks, and the drones are also capable of deploying an life-saving inflatable.
Although human lifeguards will still be required to retrieve those in distress, the drones can assist lifeguards in surveying significantly larger stretches of coastline that they wouldn’t have been able to previously. The Shark Spotter algorithm uses object recognition to distinguish between different life forms in the water. Whilst it is estimated that the naked human eye is around 20-30% accurate in this regard, the Shark Spotter algorithm, which Westpac Little Ripper Lifesaver developed closely with the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), is 90% accurate and can tell the difference between human beings on surfboards or wind surfers, manta rays, whales and of course, sharks.
The drones have already seen action and have recently saved two stranded boys after it was able to deploy an inflatable device, affectionately known as a ULB (or ‘U Little Beauty’) that was able to wash the two boys closer to shore (see video below). The next generation of the Shark Spotter software will also be able to detect signs of human distress, meaning that potential emergencies can be responded to even faster.
Mitch Yates from the Australian Lifeguard Service commented: “It’s a whole other level of life-saving equipment to just help get to that patient quicker, and help save a life quicker. In no way is it going to replace helicopter rescues, it’s just another bit of equipment we can use to potentially save someone’s life.”
Maybe you won’t need a bigger boat after all!