With tens of thousands of miles of coastline and a recent spike in shark attacks, Australia is exploring some pretty imaginative approaches to ensuring the safety of its beachgoers. Magnetic barriers and shark-tracking phone apps are a few of the tech ideas that have been floated, and the state of New South Wales is now turning to drones to help do the job. It has launched a trial of unmanned shark-spotting aircraft, which will survey the coastline for predators lurking in shallow waters.
The Little Ripper is a modified version of a military-grade Vapor 55 drone that's been fitted with advanced camera and sensing technologies. The battery-powered, AU$250,000 (US$178,500) drone streams live footage back to the ground, and according to The Daily Telegraph can fly for 150 minutes at a time and up to 100 km (62 mi) away.
This vision will combine with pattern-recognition software that is currently under development, to provide emergency and lifeguard services with the ability to spot sharks in real time. It could also enable sharks to be detected at night through infrared technology.
Further to identifying imminent threats, the Little Ripper is also designed to serve as a rescue tool. Each will carry life-saving pods packed with defibrillators, floatation devices, shark repellent and survival kits that can be dropped off to people in danger.
The Little Ripper will first be deployed on the State's northern beaches at Newcastle, Hawks Nest and Byron Bay, in a collaborative trial with Australian bank Westpac. If it proves a success, the drone may then come to be used at other sites and in other emergency scenarios, such as in rivers, lakes, snow and bushland.