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Australian lifesaving drone in world first ocean rescue

Australian lifesaving drone in world first ocean rescue
January 19, 2018

Two Australian swimmers have become the first people to be rescued in the ocean by a drone when the aerial lifesaver dropped a safety device to the distressed pair yesterday.

Having only been deployed yesterday morning (Thursday 18th January), the rescue drone was immediately put to use in a real rescue at Lennox Head on the NSW far north coast

The incident occurred when two teenage boys were seen in distress in three metre swells about a kilometre north of Lennox Head’s patrolled area.

A member of the public reported seeing the boys, and within two minutes the new drone had located the pair and dropped an inflatable flotation device to them.

The boys clung to the rescue pod and were able to swim to shore.

Surf Life Saving NSW said the boys were exhausted but unharmed.

Lifeguard Supervisor Jai Sheridan told the Gold Coast Bulletin "I was able to launch it, fly it to the location, and drop the pod all in about one to two minutes.

"On a normal day that would have taken our lifeguards a few minutes longer to reach the members of the public."

Australia is leading the use of the technology in surf lifesaving, with dozens of drones being trialled on beaches around the country.

The rescue drones were deployed at Lennox Head as part of a NSW Government backed trial on the NSW north coast.

The NSW Government announced last month it would invest $430,000 in the drone technology project.

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro said that investment had paid off when the technology was used in the dramatic rescue, advising “this is a world-first rescue.

"Never before has a drone fitted with a flotation device been used to rescue swimmers like this."

Along with their ability to spot swimmers in trouble and deliver life saving devices faster than traditional lifesaving techniques, like launching surfboards or rubber dinghies, the drones are also being used in Australia to spot underwater predators like sharks and jellyfish.

Artificial intelligence is being developed using thousands of images captured by a drone camera to build an algorithm that can identify different ocean objects.

The software can differentiate between sea creatures, like sharks which it can recognise with more than 90% accuracy, compared to about 16% with the naked eye.

While some beaches in Australia have shark nets, there are moves for them to be replaced by a range of alternatives, including sonar technology and aerial patrols.

An inquiry last year that nets did not guarantee public safety any more than other deterrents but caused significant damage to marine life.

The NSW north coast trial finishes at the end of April after which Surf Life Saving NSW will then assess a wider roll-out of the project.

Image: Two young swimmers in distress cling to an inflatable flotation device dropped to them by a drone in the ocean off Lennox Head yesterday. Courtesy of Surf Life Saving NSW.

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