From left SLSQ chief operations officer George Hill, V-TOL Aerospace managing director Mark Xavier and SLSA CEO Brett Williamson with the new drone that will be used to monitor beaches.
From left SLSQ chief operations officer George Hill, V-TOL Aerospace managing director Mark Xavier and SLSA CEO Brett Williamson with the new drone that will be used to monitor beaches. Brett Wortman

Robot spy planes to aid lifesavers

UNMANNED "drones" will be the new frontline weapon helping lifesavers eradicate black spots on Sunshine Coast beaches.

Surf lifesaving officials yesterday unveiled their new weapon against beach drownings and revealed they hoped to have them flying over Coast beaches by next summer.

The planes have a wingspan of about a metre and resemble a remote-controlled toy.

But the similarity is only superficial.

The 1kg robotic aircraft is fitted with cameras that relay real-time video to computer screens to enable lifesavers to monitor beaches some distance away.

"Within surf lifesaving we have a saying that if we can't see you, we can't save you," SLS CEO Brett Williamson said.

"Unfortunately we can't be at all places at all times. This initiative we see is a significant enhancement to extending our watch.

"That means we can keep an eye on more beaches, the remote beaches that people are increasingly flocking to and at remote times."

Announcing the world's first trial of the unmanned aircraft, Mr Williamson said hopefully it would be in use on the Coast by next summer.

SLSA has signed an agreement with Brisbane firm V-TOL Aerospace to test the new technology.

The first trial begins at Stradbroke Island in April, pending approval from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

The trial will also gauge how the small craft can be used for purposes other than community safety, including applications for environmental agencies, law enforcement and emergency services.

"On (Stradbroke Island) over this summer we've seen fires, some campers go missing in bushland, we've seen whales beach themselves up there and we've seen a number of sharks in the area," SLS Queensland operations officer George Hill said.

V-TOL managing director Mark Xavier said the unmanned drone could monitor 36sq km in an hour.

In the future, it could be adapted for use as a flotation device and deployed to a person spotted struggling in the surf.

Mr Williamson said the goal of SLSA was "to put more beaches under guard at more times".

"Unfortunately the facts are that there are still too many drownings around our beaches," he said.

"It's about using technology backed up by our very highly skilled and trained lifesavers on the ground and in the water.

"And at the end of the day that will mean saving lives."

 

BLACK SPOT BEACHES

The areas where extra air patrols are likely to happen:

  •  From Noosa River up to Double Island.
  •  Isolated beaches between the Maroochy River mouth up to Sunshine Beach, including Alexandria Bay.
  •  Unpatrolled beaches at Kawana Waters down to Dicky Beach.


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