Drones no threat to aerial patrol: Mitchell

ON TRIAL: Drones, like this "Little Ripper" unmanned vehicle, for shark spotting and search and rescue operations are being trialled in northern NSW. The trial, sponsored by Westpac, has state government support. Picture: Wolter Peeters

ON TRIAL: Drones, like this "Little Ripper" unmanned vehicle, for shark spotting and search and rescue operations are being trialled in northern NSW. The trial, sponsored by Westpac, has state government support. Picture: Wolter Peeters

The Illawarra’s aerial patrol boss says the trial of a helicopter-shaped drone – for shark spotting and rescue missions – won’t spell the end of human eyes in the sky.

An unmanned aerial vehicle, dubbed the “Little Ripper”, was launched at the Westpac Lifesaver Helicopter base in Sydney on Sunday.

At the launch, Premier Mike Baird declared the $250,000 drone to be “the future of rescue” in NSW and predicted every surf club in the state could eventually have access to the technology to save lives.

The drone, to be trialled in northern NSW, can fly up to one hour per charge. It can also carry a “pod” that holds land and water-based lifesaving devices such as defibrillators, floatation devices and shark repellent. 

I don’t see that it’s going to take over from aerial patrols ... I think they can work hand in hand. - Bendigo Bank Aerial Patrol manager, Harry Mitchell.

Bendigo Bank Aerial Patrol general manager Harry Mitchell said any “emerging technologies” that helped maximise public safety at beaches and rocky outcrops were welcome. 

“The fact that the beach safety providers can deploy a lifesaving appliance to somebody in distress is a big plus,” Mr Mitchell said.

“Any means by which vision can be relayed to the beach safety providers in terms of all sorts of threats, including sharks, is another plus.

“We welcome the introduction of new technology. I don’t see that it’s going to take over from aerial patrols, but I think they can work hand-in-hand.” 

Mr Mitchell said he understood Surf Life Saving NSW hoped to eventually distribute drones to all patrolled beaches, but stressed many Illawarra and South Coast beaches weren’t manned by lifeguards or lifesavers. 

“South of Kiama there are many more beaches that are not patrolled by beach safety providers and will still require the everyday surveillance that is provided by the Bendigo Bank Aerial Patrol and others,” he said.

Westpac is funding the drone trial. Mr Baird said it was premature to discuss possible involvement the NSW government could have in funding or development of the drone. - with SMH

Purpose of the ‘Little Ripper’

  • Search for missing persons
  • Respond to accidents
  • Lifesaving devices can be dropped from the drone
  • Aerial shark patrols 
  • Monitor/assess impacts of natural disasters
  • Collect data and imagery 
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