Beachgoers in Australia can be a little less panicky about shark attacks this summer, because artificial intelligence-equipped drones will be monitoring the water for big scary fish.
Developed by researchers at University of Technology Sydney, the AI system—dubbed Sharkspotter—can identify sharks and notify beachgoers when they're nearby. An Australian drone company called Westpac teamed up with the school to outfit its battery-powered Little Ripper Lifesaver unmanned helicopters with the technology in an effort to, hopefully, offer swimmers and surfers better protection. The AI-equipped drones will patrol "many main beaches in Australia" this summer, the school said in a news release.
"The system will give an overhead warning to swimmers/surfers when a shark or a potential risk is detected, using an on-board megaphone attached to the drones," Professor Michael Blumenstein, head of the UTS School of Software, said in a statement, adding that the system "will create a positive impact for the public, making beach recreation much safer."
Sharkspotter uses "cutting-edge deep neural networks and image processing techniques" to examine live video feeds in real time and detect the presence of sharks, and distinguish them from other marine life and objects, the school said. The system can identify sharks with 90 percent accuracy, distinguishing them from dolphins, rays, and whales. It can also distinguish surfers, swimmers, boats, humans, and other objects.
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"This system will help make beach recreation much safer and is a major milestone in addressing shark attacks with very real ability to save a life," Westpac Little Ripper Lifesaver CEO Eddie Bennet said in a statement. "This smart algorithm gives us yet another capability in patrolling beaches."
There were 26 recorded shark attacks in Australia year, including two fatalities, the school said. These incidents have spurred public discussion about ways to improve water safety while preserving the marine ecosystem.
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