Shark-detecting Drones Set to Patrol Australian Beaches

Australia is planning to use new shark-detecting drones on local beaches to spot sharks quickly and prevent more attacks. The technology, if successful, will represent a shift in shark detection and prevention efforts. The solution is sure to satisfy environmental and economic interests.
Mario L. Major
AI-Little Ripper DroneLittleRipper

The threat of a shark attack is real for beachgoers in many countries in the world. In Australia, however, the numbers are much higher, and in recent years, there has been a substantial increase in numbers. For this reason, the need for and interest in new methods of shark detection is very strong.

Shark-detecting drones, which will be employed in groups along Australian beaches starting in September, will come as a welcome addition.

shark drone
Vario Benzen Unmanned Helicopter. Source: Little Ripper

The drone fleet—appropriately dubbed ‘Little Ripper’ -- was developed by the Little Ripper Group company, a relatively new company in Australia. The fleet includes four styles of unmanned aircraft, ranging in size from large military-grade drones to smaller package carriers. 

As with all new AI technology and especially drones, there is some concern that the human work will be completely replaced. This is not the case, as the drones will send collected images to a drone operator. The operator can interpret them and then use the information to notify the appropriate people in a timely and efficient manner. What the drones offer is a better coordination of safety efforts. 

shark notice
Signs like this one found in South Africa are along Australian beaches as well. Source: ChrisDHDR via Wikipedia

Dr. Nabin Sharma, a local research associate at the University of Technology, explains that the drones will increase detection levels from 20-30 percent accuracy, with the normal human eye, to an impressive 90 percent with the drones. The drones are able to distinguish between dolphins, sharks and swimmers with great accuracy.

Best Method for Shark Prevention: Environment vs. Economy

There are undoubtedly many impacts to the presence of sharks in Australia. Making sense of the impact of attacks, New South Wales principal shark scientist, Dr. Vic Peddemors says, "[The] risk of a shark attack is extraordinarily low, but unfortunately it is a very traumatic event and it really has a massive impact not only on the victim but the victim’s family and any witnesses on the beach." 

Shark-detecting Drones Set to Patrol Australian Beaches
JTT T60 Hexa Rotor UAV. Source: Little Ripper

Australian beaches have been a favorite of surfers for decades, who flock to the Golden Coast and other beaches dotting the coastline. Peddemors adds, “It also hits local economies and tourism. There are several places around the world whose economies rely heavily on tourism—and they have seen major downfalls as a result of [shark attacks].”

Besides warnings from locals and the site of an ominous fin slowly surfacing and coursing through the water, swimmers and surfers alike take their chances when they use ocean waters, especially if they are traveling out further. Nets that are employed at a distance from the coast while somewhat effective in stopping sharks, have provoked strong outcry from environmental activists against their use: “Laid out nose to tail the marine animals killed by this program including dolphins, rays, turtles, and non-threatening sharks would stretch half the length of Bondi Beach.” Bondi Beach is another of local New South Wales beaches dealing with the issue.

With the shark-detecting drones, it seems that the dual aims of creating confidence and safety among beachgoers and not unintentionally harming marine life with nets can be achieved.