Real-time shark alert success at Kiama’s Surf Beach

It was only a fake shark in the water with him but Kye Adams was a relieved man when his Apple watch alerted him that there was possibly a shark nearby.

The Kiama lifeguard and University of Wollongong marine scientist was at Surf Beach on Thursday to take part in “possibly the world-first” real-time shark alert test.

A camera mounted on a blimp successfully tested software that can identify the shape of a shark in the water and send alerts to people via an app on their phone or a smartwatch.

The software is the latest development for Project AIRSHIP, a beach monitoring blimp mounted with a camera developed by Adams in partnership with Kiama Municipal Council and with the support of UOW’s Global Challenges Program.

The blimp now has added smarts, with the inclusion of the SharkEye system, which is based on a software algorithm capable of recognising shark shapes in the water.

TRAIL SUCCESS: Kiama lifeguard and University of Wollongong marine scientist Kye Adams and SharkMate app developer  Sam Aubin. Picture: Georgia Matts

TRAIL SUCCESS: Kiama lifeguard and University of Wollongong marine scientist Kye Adams and SharkMate app developer Sam Aubin. Picture: Georgia Matts

The system also relies heavily on the SharkMate app developed by Minnaumurra teenager Sam Aubin, as a means of promoting shark conservation and to increase the public’s knowledge of shark locations.

“It’s an amazing day today,” the 15-year-old told the Mercury.

“The trial was successful so in the coming summer we can use this blimp and the SharkMate app to reduce the risk of a shark attack.”

Images from the blimp –  which has so far logged more than 200 hours keeping a watchful eye over Kiama’s Surf Beach – are used to refine an automatic shape detection-algorithm developed by UOW computer vision and machine learning expert Professor Wanqing Li.

The combined technologies make up SharkEye, and project leader Associate Professor Robert Gorkin said uses of the system went far beyond shark detection.

“We know the communications work and we now have a platform that can be used for extended periods of monitoring over beaches,” he said.

With more than 50,000 kilometres of coastline to monitor in Australia, the solution will likely be a mix of current and future technologies.

Associate Professor Robert Gorkin

“There are many other possible uses, from looking for swimmers and surfers who are in trouble, to monitoring pollution, weather events, surf conditions and surfing events. The possibilities are endless.

“As far as I know, this is the first system that provides personal alerts to smartwatches and allows surfers or swimmers to communicate directly with people on the beach.”

Professor Gorkin said the project was made possible because of the rapid advancements and availability of new technology including, machine learning, artificial intelligence, cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT).

“There are a host of new options for minimising harm to beachgoers, sharks and other wildlife alike – particularly with new imaging and drones,” he said.

“With more than 50,000 kilometres of coastline to monitor in Australia, the solution will likely be a mix of current and future technologies.”

SharkEye is a project under The SMART Infrastructure's Digital Living Lab.