High-tech take on shark deterrence

20/06/2016 - 14:54

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Shark attacks in WA have prompted local businesses to develop a suite of non-invasive counter measures.

High-tech take on shark deterrence
safety: Julian Kruger with Astron’s Sentinel VDS technology.

Shark attacks in WA have prompted local businesses to develop a suite of non-invasive counter measures.

Sophisticated early warning devices and personal protection equipment are among the projects being developed by local companies seeking to improve swimmer safety amid public concerns over shark attacks off Western Australia’s beaches.

Business News has spoken with three Western Australia-based companies taking innovative approaches to detection and deterrence.

Astron Environmental Services technical director Julian Kruger said early detection was one way to address ongoing concerns surrounding shark attacks without the need to harm marine life.

“If we can provide ocean users with an effective early warning system as a means of mitigating shark attacks in a non-invasive and non-lethal manner, then we see this as a win for both people and sharks,” Mr Kruger told Business News.

Astron confirmed earlier this year it was developing shark detection software and drone technology alongside local tech start-up Airbotix.

The new equipment is expected to supplement current visual methods such as beach spotting and helicopter patrols by providing a higher degree of accurate detection with the aid of precision computer optics.

“The system will prove ideal in most conditions and, being a method that doesn’t have a permanent fixture, it can be easily deployed to new locations, including remote areas,” Mr Kruger said.

“We see that this system could offer an invaluable safety tool for some of our iconic beach events such as the Margaret River Pro, the Rottnest Swim and our surf life saving carnivals.”

Mehdi Ravanbakhsh is team leader of the Astron project, bringing with him previous research into underwater stereo-video technology as a method of measurement and sampling.

“To date we have been trialling a number of machine learning and computer vision approaches to detect sharks as anomalies and moving objects in the ocean,” Dr Ravanbakhsh said.

“We are now looking to move beyond detection to a more sophisticated analysis of these objects, which will allow us to increase the rate of identification for sharks.”

Trials on the system, named Sentinel VDS, are about to start with field tests during the next four to six months across various WA locations. Astron is also in preliminary discussions with a local surf lifesaving club to undertake further trials over summer.

Shark Mitigation Systems is also making waves in the shark prevention arena with its recently developed detection device, which is immersible rather than airborne.

In collaboration with Optus and Google, the company has produced Clever Buoy, a sonar recognition device that floats on the surface of the ocean.

The technology combines sonar interrogation software and satellite communication to detect sharks and act as a warning system to beach users.

Once an object more than a couple of metres long comes into range with the buoy, it uses sonar to identify a shark’s distinct movements.

If movement patterns confirm a shark is detected, an alert is then sent via the Optus network satellite notifying lifeguards in real time.

Since undergoing trials at Bondi Beach earlier this year, Clever Buoy has been endorsed by the Australian Professional Ocean Lifeguard Association as a practical detection solution.

The company has also created a range of marine apparel that targets a shark’s visual perceptions with different patterns and colour combinations on wetsuits and surfboards.

Preliminary testing conducted at the University of Western Australia revealed it had some initial success as a means to deter a shark approaching, with further tests ongoing.

A third company, Shark Shield, has focused on a deterrence procedure with its development of a portable electric device with a depth rate of 50 metres that can be strapped to the user’s ankle.

The technology sends electrical waveforms that cause irritable muscle spasms in the snout receptors a shark uses for locating food – a procedure UWA researchers noted as having a significant effect in shark deterrence.

The device was tested along with other variables including bright flashing strobe lights, bubble curtains, loud sounds ,as well as other unnamed commercial deterrence devices as part of the state government research program into shark hazard mitigation.

Each method produced varied results, some which depended on the shark species.

A detailed breakdown of results from last year’s findings and ongoing research at UWA are due to be released in the coming weeks.

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