In February, a fleet of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) was launched by Premier Mike Baird. The design is called the Westpac Little Ripper, and it can spot sharks and help with search-and-rescue operations. These new eyes in the sky can access places traditional rescue methods can’t, and can drop life-saving pods that contain defibrillators (the machines used to shock the heart back into working), flotation devices and survival kits from the sky into the water.
The drones were developed by Australia’s first astronaut, Dr Paul Scully-Power, and philanthropist Kevin Weldon. Weldon had a personal interest in the new technology; he was motivated by the memory of a friend who was killed by a shark off Burleigh Heads in Queensland.
Surf Life Saving NSW (SLSNSW) says it has plans for a testing phase for the UAVs at the start of summer across its branches on the Far North Coast, Central Coast and areas of Sydney. Specific surf clubs where the drones will be used can’t be identified at this stage. The drones are worth $25,000 each, can fly for up to 100 kilometres and stay airborne for about 150 minutes.
Alongside the drones, Surf Life Saving Australia is trialing a new Android app that uses augmented reality to help people spot and avoid hazards at the beach. The Pocket Patrol App was developed by Samsung. Users can scan the beach with a smart-phone camera and see dangers; just stand at the shore, scan the sea with your phone and identify rips, shallow sandbanks, submerged rocks and other unknowns beneath the surface. It’s currently being trialled in Queensland before it is rolled out in other states.
“[These technologies] won’t replace the vital work [lifeguards] do but can potentially become an important addition to their rescue equipment,” says an SLSNSW representative.
“Its potential is limitless. It can be used for surveillance, dropping rescue packs, locating missing swimmers or children on land. We’re only at the very beginning of what this technology is capable of.”