Lonely Planet Writer

Australia is introducing shark-monitoring drones ahead of this summer's surfing season

Specially-designed drones that have been created to monitor the activity of sharks, are due to be rolled out for trials at select locations in Australia next month as part of a campaign to ensure that beach-goers and surfers are free to safely enjoy this year’s summer swells.

An aerial view of surfers in Australia
This summer will see shark-monitoring drones being implemented at Australian beaches. Image by Jacob Maentz/Getty Images

Created by company Little Ripper, the drones utilise an algorithm that was developed in conjunction with the University of Technology Sydney in order to keep track of shark sightings, and have the ability to hover over the animals while sending a live video back to pilots on the beach. The drones can be used to warn surfers of sharks that are up to one kilometre away through the use of an on-board loud speaker, and also feature emergency flotation devices that can be deployed from above if needed, inflating immediately upon impact with the water. The emergency vessels can hold four adults for up to 24 hours.

The drones are due to begin operational trial patrols two weeks from now along selected beaches in Queensland and New South Wales, and this year will mark the first time the algorithm will ever be used over a summer period.

Video trials have shown a success rate of over 92% in identifying sharks from the video feed, with the manufacturers stating that the technology has a much greater efficiency than reconnaissance done with the human eye from helicopters or planes. The company has also been called into operations by police in recent times to assist with missing persons and troubled swimmers, with drones proving to be capable of reaching cliff areas and inlets that boats and helicopters cannot.

The Westpac Little Ripper can also deploy an SOS flotation craft in case of emergencies. Image by Little Ripper

“The drone can be launched and out the back of the surf break in eight-to-ten seconds to deliver a flotation pod to a troubled swimmer. This is quicker than launching a rubber duck, a lifeguard on a paddle board, or even Trevor Hendy in his best day,” said Eddie Bennet, CEO of the Ripper Group.

A dedicated training academy at Port Macquarie has also been established to prepare lifeguards and volunteer life-savers to become UAV pilots, with the academy boasting 46 graduates since opening in March.