on April 30th, 2020

Australia is well-known for its beautiful beaches, with over one million tourists making their way to the beach each year. From national surf competitions to school swimming lessons, Australian beach culture is a huge part of the country’s national identity.  

However, there is one significant challenge that comes with enjoying over 20,000 kilometers of coastline, and that is patrolling it. Due to not only its size but also the sheer amount of potential dangers lurking beneath the waters surface, keeping Australia’s majestic coastlines safe is a logistical nightmare. 

But a world-first in drone technology may be the potential solution.

Founded in 2015, Australian company ‘The Ripper Group’ develops search and rescue drones that can monitor beaches and deploy emergency care packages to people in need. With features including being able to alert lifeguards to people who need saving to being able to spot incoming predators, their drones are already being used across the country to help keep Australian beaches safe. 

Sponsored by Westpac, the ‘The Little Ripper Lifesaver’ project represents the future in shoreline safety, being able to identity and respond to incidents beyond the human eye. In January of 2018, the lifesaving drone rescued two teenage boys off the coast of Lennox Head in New South Wales. Controlled by lifesavers onshore, the drone was able to be sent to the boys with an inflatable rescue pod attached.

John Barilaro, the state's deputy premier, praised the rescue as historic. "Never before has a drone fitted with a flotation device been used to rescue swimmers like this," he said. 

However, The Little Ripper Lifesaver doesn’t only save struggling swimmers. The groundbreaking drones are now equipped with an Artificial Intelligence based system that can detect a variety of marine threats such as sharks and crocodiles. With a proven accuracy of 90%, the drones can identify possible threats and relay this information to emergency services, beach lifeguards and endangered swimmers. 

“This is a great example of how an AI application can help humans, as it has significantly higher rates of visual accuracy in shark detection than people. The drone will certainly help us to improve detection rates and to maintain safer conditions for those in the water,” says Dr Nabin Sharma from the UTS Centre for Artificial Intelligence.

Anyone who wishes to fly a surf lifesaving drone is simply required to do a two-day course, making it easy for surf lifesavers across the country to get involved in the program. This lifesaving combination of AI technology and mechanical engineering is a leading example of how technology can unlock opportunities in supposedly unrelated fields, enhancing the human experience as well as unlocking new job opportunities. 

Currently, the drones are also being used in partnership with Chinese UAV giant DJI to help combat COVID-19. The drones can assist in two key areas, being aerial spray disinfection and crowd control.

“Through environmentally friendly active disinfectant agents we can neutralize the Coronavirus in public places on surfaces in places like playgrounds, malls, public gyms, public transport areas, sporting arenas, schools, universities, hospitals, child-care centers, aged-care facilities, shopping centers, supermarkets, factories and warehouses,” said CEO of The Ripper Group, Ben Trollope.

Mr. Trollope also explained how the drone could help authorities in dispersing crowds to further enforce social distancing conditions.

“Using drones protects the lifeguards and police by allowing safe social distancing and does the job quickly and efficiently. This will protect first responders and front-line personnel,” he said.

Works Cited
Ballantyne, Kreisha. “Drones Watch over Beaches.” Flight Safety Australia, 10 Feb. 2020, www.flightsafetyaustralia.com/2020/02/drones-watch-over-beaches/.

Spires, Josh, et al. “Drones to Fly above Australia's Beaches This Summer.” DroneDJ, 7 Feb. 2020, dronedj.com/2020/02/07/drones-fly-above-australia-beaches-summer/.

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