Crocodile-spotting drones deployed in Australia

Image courtesy Westpac Little Ripper

SYDNEY (Reuters) – An Australian maker of drones used to spot sharks near surf beaches has partnered with online retailer Inc and other firms to create a drone service that could protect tourists from crocodiles in holiday destinations. 

The project was initiated by the government of the northeastern state of Queensland after the privately-owned Ripper Group successfully used drones to identify sharks in neighbouring New South Wales. 

“It gives them a second set of eyes over the top of the human element to try and make it safer for crocodiles and the humans,” Ben Trollope, the chief executive of Westpac Little Ripper drones, said in a telephone interview from Brisbane.

The Ripper Group has partnered with Amazon unit Amazon Web Services, in developing the capability of the new drone service, including reducing delays in transmitting footage, Trollope added.

“Amazon have been vital,” he said. “They’ve opened up their whole capability, which has allowed us to quickly get to somewhere that could have taken quite a long time.” 

The drones use an algorithm created with the University of Technology in Sydney that developers say can identify 16 different types of marine life and has an accuracy rate of 93%.

The algorithm is adjusted to separate crocodiles from mangroves in northern Queensland’s dense rainforest areas, a factor the ocean drones do not have to contend with.

“Everything is research for us. We’re continually collecting data, teaching the algorithm to get smarter,” Trollope added.

The drones featured at the World of Drones Congress in Brisbane on Thursday, where images were beamed in from a demonstration at a Queensland crocodile park.

Drone sponsor Westpac Bank, which has also sponsored drones that can both spot sharks and drop rescue devices to people in trouble since 2016, has sponsored rescue service helicopters for more than 40 years.

Queensland government data from January 2018 shows that four of 11 crocodile attacks since 2011 were fatal, including one in 2017 in the northern holiday area of Port Douglas.

(Reporting by Hans Lee; Edited by John Mair and Clarence Fernandez)

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