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Drone tech takes next step

07:05pm December 17 2018

A new partnership will see 51 Westpac Life Saver Rescue Drones rolled out across the country this summer. (Josh Wall)

Sitting down with Kevin Weldon to talk about drones, it’s instantly clear the first president of the International Lifesaving Federation knows a thing or two about the real world impact technology advancements can have.

“Sharks were always a problem for lifesavers in my day,” the co-founder of drone start-up Little Ripper told Westpac Wire.
“I unfortunately was in the water with a friend when he got fatally attacked by a shark and I was involved in that and that’s something you never forget.

“Now we have developed a shark algorithm so our machine can fly along and automatically hover over a shark in the water…with about a 96 per cent accuracy, whereas somebody in an aircraft you might think you see them but it’s usually only about 20-odd per cent.”

From ocean rescues and spotting sharks to helping farmers and flying autonomously, Weldon says the combination of unique algorithms and artificial intelligence is quickly revolutionising the use of drones across industries.  He says Little Ripper has about 20 possible algorithms it could develop subject to funding, already working on one to spot crocodiles. The group is also testing the ability to deploy pods with shark shield devices which sends electro-magnetic pulses that deter sharks and protect nearby people, ahead of next year trialling the use of drones on farms to improve the management of crops.

Little Ripper was this week also revealed to be playing a role in a new partnership between Surf Life Saving Australia and Westpac that will see 51 Westpac Life Saver Rescue Drones rolled out across the country this summer.

The Ripper Group, which will act as research and development partner for SLSA, is already operating 17 Westpac Little Ripper Lifesaver drones in NSW and Queensland, making global headlines in January when helping save two teenage boys in wild surf at Lennox Head beach by dropping a self-inflating “rescue pod”.

“From our research, last year we unfortunately saw 110 coastal drownings  – above the 14-year average of 99, with SLSA recording a total of 163 coastal fatalities…there is no better time than now to welcome new technologies that can help us protect more Australians,” SLSA president Graham Ford said in a statement.

It comes amid rapid decline in the cost of making drones and rise in adoption, Macquarie equity analysts this month noting that 11 per cent of Australians in a recent survey of shoppers proposed drones as a solution to speeding up the delivery of goods bought online.

“AI is revolutionising the world,” said Weldon, noting pilotless drones were already flying in some countries. “What I worry about is the jobs of the future… there’s going to be a positive thing, but we should be investing in it now.”

Josh Wall is the Head of Video at Westpac Wire. Prior to joining the team, he spent 10 years as a video journalist and documentary filmmaker, most recently as Head of Video for the Guardian Australia. He also worked across numerous News Corp mastheads in Sydney as a presenter, producer, writer and video journalist. Josh is originally from Perth, Western Australia where he began his career by co-creating a video magazine that focused on music and the arts.

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