Rescue authorities in Australia are using drones to identify sharks and provide assistance to swimmers threatened by them. The camera-equipped drones were launched this week as part of a trial program, and will patrol the coastline of the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW). There were 14 shark attacks in NSW last year, including one fatality, and state authorities have been supporting the development of new technology to prevent future attacks.
The $180,000 drone trialled this week, known as the "Little Ripper," has a high-definition camera that relays aerial footage to computers on the ground. It also contains a rescue pod that drops down in the event of an emergency. As the Sydney Morning Herald reports, the pod includes medical equipment, shark repellant, and an inflatable raft that can carry up to three people. The battery-powered Vapor 55 drone can stay in the air for up to 150 minutes, according to the Daily Telegraph, and researchers are working on software that would allow the drone to automatically identify shark type.
"The Little Ripper is the new, high-tech eye in the sky," said Brian Hartzer, chief executive of Westpac, which is funding the trial. "There are 17 Westpac helicopters around Australia and we hope this is going to work really well and become another very welcome sight around the coastline." If the trial is successful, about 40 other drones will be deployed across the area.