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New high-tech eyes in the sky to transform search and rescue and shark spotting capabilities


Key facts:

  • Ground-breaking trial of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to transform the way search and rescue missions are conducted
  • Integration into emergency and critical rescue services including Surf Life Saving NSW lifesaving operations, complementing Westpac's 42 year sponsorship of Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter Service (WLRHS)
  • Targeting:
    • highly cost efficient and effective search and rescue across coastal waters and surf, rivers, lakes, snow and bush;
    • world's best practice for aerial detection of sharks; and
    • pin-point accurate and safe delivery of lifesaving devices such as electronic shark repellent, defibrillators, floatation devices, and personal survival kits.


Westpac today announced a sponsorship to trial autonomous, long-range Little Ripper Lifesaver© Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for search and rescue.  The new sponsorship complements Westpac's existing 42-year sponsorship of the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter Services (WLRHS) and further strengthens its commitment to supporting local communities and making Australia safer.


The remote control aircrafts will initially patrol a number of northern NSW coastlines testing and fine-tuning its capabilities to better determine its role in saving lives and helping to keep the community safe.


The trial will also seek to integrate the Little Ripper UAVs with local emergency services including Surf Life Saving NSW.

The NSW Premier, Mr Mike Baird, endorsed the new technology's potential to assist existing search and rescue services in making NSW beaches, waterways, bushlands and parks safer and to assist the NSW Government's shark management strategy.


Launching the trial today he said, "As Australians, we love the outdoors, and I commend Little Ripper and Westpac for conducting this innovative trial. This technology has the potential to improve the way our emergency services respond when people find themselves in trouble."


"We're investing in unmanned and increased aerial surveillance as part of our $16 million shark strategy and I look forward to the outcomes of this trial."


Brian Hartzer, Westpac Chief Executive Officer, said the investment was another way Westpac was supporting Australia as the company approaches its 200th anniversary in 2017. 


"This is innovation at its best that will lead to a safer Australia. For over 40 years, the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter Service has been a crucial community service in Australia, and we believe the Westpac Little Ripper Lifesaver technology has the potential to help save even more lives," said Mr Hartzer.


The Little Ripper Lifesaver is the brainchild of Mr Kevin Weldon AM, the founding President of the International Life Saving Federation, who has brought together a team of experts to deliver the trial.


The trial will be conducted under the regulatory guidance of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), and will incorporate the latest developments in UAV search planning techniques, sensor and pattern recognition algorithms and decision support processes.


"The aim of this trial is to accomplish things with search and rescue that were impossible to even dream about 10 or 20 years ago. It offers exciting new possibilities to unite multiple emergency services in ensuring more effective and rapid deployment in critical search and rescue missions, including in the aftermath of natural disasters."


As the oldest civilian search and rescue service in Australia, the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service has performed more than 70,000 missions over the past four decades. The Westpac Little Ripper Lifesaver trial will test capabilities to support existing search and rescue capabilities across a number of emergency services operations in NSW including Surf Life Saving.


Tony Haven AM, President, Surf Life Saving NSW said, "Surf Life Saving NSW is proud to support trials which will provide insight into new innovative solutions which could aid lifesaving capabilities across our beaches".


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About The Westpac Little Ripper Lifesaver Trial

The Westpac Little Ripper Lifesaver© UAVs being tested are battery powered, military-grade unmanned helicopters carrying advanced vision and sensing technologies. The Westpac Little Ripper Lifesaver trial will:


  • Work with CASA to prove-up and develop the regulatory framework and conditions for autonomous, long-range, unmanned aircraft to safely perform critical search and rescue missions, including beyond visual-line-of-sight. (Currently CASA regulations require all remotely piloted aircraft to be flown within visual-line-of-sight of the pilot at all times.)
  • Validate the functionality and suitability of the Westpac Little Ripper Lifesaver UAVs for Australia's coastal waters and other conditions
  • Research, develop and deploy best practice aerial detection of sharks utilising real-time sensor and pattern recognition algorithms and decision support processes
  • Demonstrate pin-point accurate and safe delivery, via the UAVs, of ULB Life Saving Pods© containing both land and water based lifesaving devices such as defibrillators, floatation devices, shark repellent and personal survival kits into critical situations 
  • Seek to integrate ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance – broadcast) into the UAVs together with TCAS (traffic alert and collision avoidance) visibility.
  • Develop effective integration and co-ordination with existing emergency and rescue services, such as police, fire and rescue, ambulance, maritime safety and importantly Surf Life Saving NSW
  • Initially trial in Northern NSW (Newcastle, Hawks Nest and Byron Bay)


Beyond the trial, The Westpac Little Ripper Lifesaver will aim to support:


  • Search and rescue of persons in oceans, surf, rivers, lakes, snow and bush;
  • Aerial shark detection and monitoring
  • The monitoring and assessment of impacts of natural disasters including floods, storms and cyclones and bushfires and related relief operations; and
  • Responses to major accidents and catastrophes.