Amazon helps deliver crocodile-spotting drones


An Australian maker of drones used to spot sharks near surf beaches partnered with online retailer and other firms to create a drone service to could protect tourists from crocodiles at holiday destinations.

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

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

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

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

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

The algorithm is adjusted to separate crocodiles from mangroves in northern Queensland’s dense rainforest areas, a factor 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, where images were beamed in from a demonstration at a Queensland crocodile park.

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

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