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Yamba Surf Life Saving Club captain James Ryan (left) and club member Danielle Connolly monitor pilot Rob Becker, as he takes a drone for a test flight over Main Beach last Sunday. Image: Geoff Helisma.

Drone technology to make swimming safer

Geoff Helisma |

Yamba Surf Life Saving Club has been testing the feasibility of using drones – otherwise known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) – to monitor for sharks during patrols.

Associate volunteer member of the club Rob Becker, who is a trained UAV pilot, tested the device at Main Beach on Sunday, flying it above the water in a blustery southerly wind.

Previously, he was involved in Surf Life Saving Far North Coast Branch’s trial “of shark spotting on a number of beaches, including Evans Head”.

Mr Becker said UAVs will be combined “with the other existing methods” to patrol beaches.
“I wouldn’t rely on it solely,” he said, “but it has a part to play.

“I can see it making swimming safer for the general public.”

A trial UAV was put into effective use during a search for a missing man at Sandon in June this year.
“The branch was approached by the NSW Police and the SES to help assist in search for the missing man,” Mr Becker said.

“We were able to coordinate with those groups for a successful test.

“We provided police with an overview of the area searched, so areas were not covered multiple times.
“It made coordination of the groups more effective and made better use of everyone’s time.”

He said more advanced UAVs than the one he was testing will be “more practical and useful than for just spotting sharks”.

“Further down the track we’ll probably have an updated drone [UAV] that is able to drop rescue devices to people in the water, and defibrillators if needed.

“For example, if we needed a defibrillator at a remote location, we could fly it in and put it down on the beach for further first aid.”

In January this year, a Westpac Little Ripper Rescue UAV – larger than the UAV Mr Becker was flying – played a part in rescuing two swimmers at Lennox Head, when it dropped a flotation device to assist them back to shore.

The Little Ripper website explains: “Little Ripper UAV’s (drones) have been developed specifically to execute multiple strategies, including deploying rescue devices and communicating with those requiring assistance.

“This way Westpac Little Ripper Lifesaver rescue teams can react quickly and efficiently to save lives.”

Also, Westpac Little Ripper Lifesaver has worked “with the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) to develop an Artificial Intelligence based system that is able to detect sharks with high accuracy, in real-time.

“This technology allows for faster reaction times to potential shark threats at beaches.”