AI News, Drones and AI Take On Killer Sharks Down Under

Drones and AI Take On Killer Sharks Down Under

Whether or not shark attacks are a major problem in Australia (spoiler alert: they're not), the Australian government has devoted an enormous amount of resources into trying to mitigate the risk of sharks near popular beaches.

After six months of trials, the latest and most robot-y idea is about to be implemented: drones will start patrolling some Australian beaches next month, using cameras and some AI-backed image analysis software to spot lurking sharks much better than humans can.

As with many tasks of this kind, a machine learning system does much better: once it's been trained on labeled aerial videos of sharks, whales, dolphins, surfers, swimmers, boats, and whatever else, the software is 90 percentaccurate at telling humans to panic because there's a shark somewhere.

In case you were wondering whether any of this is driven by politics rather than common sense, the mayor of one Australian beach town would like you to know that“the Westpac Little Ripper Lifesaver have been developing methods to identify sharks in the water since its inception, and the latest news is groundbreaking.

These drones would offer a lot more value if we focused on the fact that they can detect people and drop lifesaving equipment to them much faster and safer than a human lifeguard could, but that’s not nearly as exciting as trying to take on sharks.

The Download

US Special Counsel Robert Mueller (pictured above) has charged 13 Russians and three organizations, including the Internet Research Agency, with alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Russians visited the US in 2014 to conduct research and then built a sophisticated operation that included sizable departments handling search optimization, data analytics, and IT.

Virtual Americans: To hide their origins, the Russians rented space on servers based in the US and set up a virtual private network so that it looked like messages were coming from within the country.

Australian Lifeguards Are Getting a $200,000 Drone to Spot Sharks

Drones are slowly but surely becoming part of the equation for emergency services for jobs like search-and-rescue or avalanche prevention.

Little Ripper is a modified version of a military drone, and has the kinds of specs you’d therefore expect: flight time of two and a half hours, range of 60 miles, and a range of daytime and infrared cameras.

Little Ripper will be operating in airspace shared with manned aircraft, and the success or failure will set the stage for future rescue missions—and yes, Amazon’s long-term plan to bring you a pair of shoes with a drone.

How Australia’s new shark-detecting drones spot the difference between human swimmers and underwater threats

It's also capable of distinguishing surfers, swimmers, boats and other objects.  The drone works via real time analysis of overhead footage, and information can be relayed immediately to emergency services, beach lifeguards and beach users to help make safe decisions about getting into the water.  'The automated system for detection and identification of sharks in particular, and marine life/objects more generally, was developed using cutting edge deep neural networks and image processing techniques,' said Professor Michael Blumenstein, Head of the School of Software in the Faculty of Engineering and IT at UTS.  'The system efficiently distinguishes and identifies sharks from other targets by processing video feeds that are dynamic, as well as images, where objects are static.' The drone gives an overhead warning to swimmers when a shark or a potential risk is detected via an on-board megaphone attached to the drone.

Protecting humans from sharks: What are the options?

As northern New South Wales residents continue to debate the best way to deal with shark attacks in the region, we take a look at the pros and cons of the most popular options available to protect people from ocean predators.

PROS: Statistics support their efficacy, with one fatality at a netted beach between Newcastle and Wollongong in the past 70 years and an overall drop in shark interactions with humans since nets were installed around Sydney and Queensland.

Shark-spotting programs using surveillance techniques, including drones, private helicopters, observation towers and even blimps, are being trialled in various locations across the globe.

CONS: Can not be everywhere at once, possible visibility issues when water clarity is not ideal, financial cost of hiring aircraft and/or personnel to conduct surveillance, water-users may ignore warnings.

Professor Colin Buxton of the University of Tasmania told the ABC: 'the use of shark nets and drum lines is a proven way of reducing shark attack, however the public need to understand and acknowledge that this works by killing sharks'.

According to a spokesperson for WA's Fisheries Minister Ken Baston, in September 2014 the WA Government withdrew its proposal for the operation of drum lines for a further three years because the WA Environmental Protection Authority found there to be a: 'high degree of scientific uncertainty about impacts [of drum lines] on the south-western white shark population'.

smart drum line is based on the traditional drumline design, but includes technology that can alert rangers to the capture of marine life and they can then attend the device if sea conditions permit.

Acoustic pulses from tags are detected by underwater receivers also known as listening stations but sharks need to swim close (typically within 500 metres) to a listening station for its acoustic tag to be detected.

CONS: Shark biologist Dr Rachel Robbins told Radio National: 'The problem is, it could lead people into a false sense of security because they'll think 'there hasn't been a detection in two weeks', however we're only looking at tagged sharks and we're only going to ever be able to tag a very small portion of the shark population at any one time'.

CONS: Trial was abandoned in two locations in northern New South Wales because the barriers could not withstand rough conditions and surfers were concerned the barriers would pose a risk to their safety by snagging and trapping them underwater.

CONS: Choice Magazine rated a range of personal shark repellent devices in January 2016 and said: 'If fear of a shark attack is stopping you from entering the water, then forking out for a personal shark deterrent may provide some peace of mind.

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