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article imageShark-spotting drones deployed along Australia's coast

By Tim Sandle     May 4, 2018 in Technology
Drones with equipment capable of detecting sharks are helping save stranded swimmers through sounding alarms. The drones are being used by lifeguards in Australia.
The Westpac Little Ripper drones, as The Verge reports, are equipped with artificial intelligence software called Shark Spotter. The technology allows the drones to distinguish between sharks and other marine life. When a shark is detected, an on-board siren warns swimmers of a nearby shark. If the swimmer cannot get out of the water fast enough, or struggles or is even attacked, then human lifeguards still need to physically retrieve those in trouble.
A prototype shark-spotting drone in action is shown in the video below:
The artificial intelligence was constructed by using thousands of images captured by a drone camera. These images were used to develop an algorithm that can identify different ocean objects. The software has been tested out and trials have shown it can differentiate between sea creatures, like sharks with more than 90 percent accuracy. This is said to be far in excess of an experienced lifeguard, where success in shark spotting with the naked eye is pitches at around 16 percent.
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In an interview with Japan Times, the software designer Nabin Sharma from the University of Technology Sydney said: "We can identify 16 different objects, like sharks, whales, dolphins, surfers, different kinds of boats and many other objects of interest."
He adds: "We are spotting sharks and we can alert swimmers and surfers in real time, so we can get them back to the beach,” he added. “In short, we are trying to make beach recreation more safe."
In terms of success, The Daily Telegraph carries a report in which Chris Peck, from Surf Life Saving Western Australia, states that a drone spotted a shark on two occasions at Secret Harbour, a beach in the south of Perth. "Our drone patrol at Secret Harbour during a routine patrol has picked up a shark off the back of a break on Monday morning," Mr Peck told the news outlet.
"It was about … 100 metres off-shore, swimming in a zig-zag pattern. There were about 20 surfers in the water at the time and two school groups with about 30 kids in each. So the drone is a great benefit from a localised surveillance perspective... we're able to take immediate action."
As a follow-on, Little Ripper Group, the company that developed the drones, is developing on an “electronic shark repellent".
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