Shark-spotting drones on patrol at Aussie beaches

AFP
High-tech shark-spotting drones are patrolling dozens of Australian beaches this summer to quickly identify underwater predators.
AFP

High-tech shark-spotting drones are patrolling dozens of Australian beaches this summer to quickly identify underwater predators and deliver safety devices to swimmers and surfers faster than traditional lifesavers.

As hundreds of people lined up in the early morning sun to take part in an ocean swimming race at Bilgola beach north of Sydney, they did so in the knowledge the ocean had been scanned to keep them safe.

“I think it is really awesome,” 20-year-old competitor Ali Smith said. “It is cool to see technology and ocean swimming getting together, and hopefully more people will feel safer and get involved.”

The drones being used are top notch. Artificial intelligence is built using thousands of images captured by a drone camera to develop an algorithm that can identify different ocean objects.

The software can differentiate between sea creatures, like sharks, which it can recognize with more than 90 percent accuracy, compared to about 16 percent with the naked eye.

“We can identify 16 different objects, like sharks, whales, dolphins, surfers, different kinds of boats and many other objects of interest,” said software designer Nabin Sharma from the University of Technology Sydney. “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.”

Surf lifesaving clubs are Australian institutions dotted along the country’s coastline — where the majority of the population live.

Some beaches in Australia have shark nets, but a government report this week called for their phasing out in favor of exploring a range of alternatives, including sonar technology and aerial patrols. The inquiry found that nets did not guarantee public safety but caused significant damage to marine life. 


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