Defying Skeptics, Little Ripper Shark-Finding Drone Saves Struggling Swimmers

Silencing critics, a shark detecting Little Ripper drone saved two struggling swimmers faster than human lifeguards ever could. Video.

aNewDomain/RobotRepublic — It wasn’t so long ago that Little Ripper shark spotter drones couldn’t get any respect — not Down Under, anyway.

Skeptics criticized a drone-based shark detection program launched by Sydney’s University of Technology last summer, saying shark attacks weren’t a big enough problem to justify it.

Australia ranks second worldwide (after the United States) in unprovoked shark attacks, according to the University of Florida’s international shark attack file and database.

But no one complained last week, after a Little Ripper shark-spotter drone helped save two swimmers 700 meters off the New South Wales coast. Not only did it spot them, it dropped life preservers on them.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, lifeguard Jai Sheridan was piloting the drone at the time.

Now, Little Ripper isn’t the name of a specific model drone.Rather, it refers to a family of commercial drones modified for shark spotting and, now, lifeguard support.

Watch the video above, which will show you the drone’s eye view on the struggling swimmers. It took fewer than 70 seconds from drone launch to dropping the lifesaving pods onto the swimmers. A human lifeguard, Sheridan estimates, would have taken six minutes or more to do the same.

It’s “a brilliant use of drone technology,” notes RobotRepublic cofounder and noted robot ethics expert, Scott Robbins, It highlights, he says, what is perhaps the biggest strength of delivery drone tech: its ability to get somewhere faster than a human.

And it shows a more direct life-saving benefit to its Little Ripper shark detection drone tech.

The system, according to the university, relies on aerial videos of sharks for training. It is designed tag sharks and other large marine life. According to researchers, it is is far more accurate at spotting sharks than humans, catching them 90 percent of the time.

For RobotRepublic, I’m Gina Smith.

This video from NBC is another good take on the Little Ripper’s big save.

 An earlier version of this piece ran on our sister site, RobotRepublic. Read it here.