Futuristic unmanned technology normally used for military operations could soon be monitoring bathers and sharks off Australian beaches.
The project will test the effectiveness of unmanned flying drones as a surf lifesaving tool.
A three-month trial on Queensland’s North Stradbroke Island is expected to start in September, with lifesavers hopeful the drones will be rolled out nationally.
“This robotic drone program is an exciting innovation,” Surf Life Saving Australia CEO Brett Williamson said.
“This technology can be applied to a range of … scientific areas such as monitoring erosion, bush fires and tracking shark movements, and allows us to spot a swimmer in trouble before something serious occurs.
“There’s an old saying in surf life saving – ‘if we can’t see you, we can’t save you’,” Mr Williamson said.
The drone technology isn’t designed to be a replacement for surf patrols.
About the size of a large model aeroplane, the drone is not intrusive, is cost effective and can operate at different hours than helicopters, the current technology of choice.
The proposal is part of a broad action plan launched by the Australian Water Safety Council at a conference in Sydney on Monday.
The three-year plan aims to halve water-related incidents by 2020, and is the result of extensive consultation across all domestic water-related bodies.
From July 2010 to June 2011, 315 people drowned in Australia – the highest number since 2003.
Across the Asian region, 250,000 children drown each year.
This statistic has prompted the council to enter into a historic agreement with Japan’s Water Safety Nippon to promote discussion on water safety.