Australia will deploy a fleet of drones to patrol its shores for sharks next month, as part of an effort to enhance beach safety. As Reuters reports, the drones are equipped with AI-powered software that can distinguish sharks from sharks, boats, and other marine life in real-time. The so-called “Little Ripper” drones were first used in a trial program last year.
Nabin Sharma, a research associate at the University of Technology Sydney’s School of Software, tells Reuters that the system aims to improve the accuracy of aerial shark detection, adding that humans are only able to identify sharks with 20 to 30 percent accuracy when analyzing aerial imagery. The drone-based system can detect sharks with 90 percent accuracy, Sharma said.
Researchers trained the system to identify sharks using publicly available aerial photos and video. If a shark is detected, the drones will alert swimmers through a megaphone, and could also deploy a life raft and emergency beacon for people in danger. Little Ripper Group, the company that developed the drones, is also working on an “electronic shark repellent,” company co-founder Paul Scully-Power tells Reuters.
Earlier this year, Australia began installing protective nets to protect swimmers from sharks, following a series of attacks. (Australia ranks second behind the US in unprovoked shark incidents.) But some researchers have questioned the effectiveness of underwater nets, and environmental advocates say they could harm other wildlife.