Australia to use drones to foil shark attacks

28 August 2017

Australia will use drones to spot sharks by beaches frequented by surfers.

Starting September, Little Ripper drones, as they are affectionately called, will monitor some Australian beaches for signs of sharks, and pass along their imagery to an AI system that can identify sharks in real-time with 90 per cent accuracy. Though the software will still be run by humans (someone has to verify the results), the highly automated system is expected to work quickly and reliably to save lives.

The detection AI, a machine learning system is trained by the system to both look for sharks based on aerial videos and also distinguish them from other life on the water. That approach does not only help it identify sharks, it can also flag dolphins, whales and other sea creatures of interest, giving  researchers an additional way to track populations.

The drones also do not just save helicopters' valuable flight time, they also hold beacons and life rafts, to extend immediate help to people in distress. As part of the project, a collaboration between the Westpac and Telstra backed Little Ripper Group and a team of researchers at the University of Technology, Sydney, an electronic 'repellent' that the drones could use to keep sharks at away until the arrival of rescue personnel is also under development.

But Australia also deploys nets along its northeastern shores to prevent sharks from entering areas in the first place. According to commentators the drones could at least augment those methods, and would likely be friendlier to the local ecosystem.

Little Ripper drone's SharkSpotter technology uses deep learning to detect sharks below the waves. SharkSpotter runs an algorithm to detect sharks in a live video feed recorded in real time by a drone (known as the Little Ripper Livesaver) flying above the water.

The algorithm, developed using artificial intelligence and deep neural networks, allows Little Ripper to distinguish sharks from dolphins, rays and other marine animals, and even surfers. Also with its onboard megaphone, Little Rippper can warn swimmers about what is lurking in the water before they even become aware of the threat.

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