Milestone for shark tech trials

07/12/2016 - 14:53

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Shark detection technology developed by Perth-based environmental consultancy Astron and its partner, C4D Intel, has completed its first prototype field trials.

Julian Kruger hopes the Sentinel VDS drone detection technology can provide an approach to shark mitigation without harming the species.

Shark detection technology developed by Perth-based environmental consultancy Astron and its partner, C4D Intel, has completed its first prototype field trials.

The automated detection system, Sentinel VDS, pairs drone technology with detection software as a means to warn the public when shark species are detected.

When Business News spoke to Astron technical director Julian Kruger earlier this year, the company was in the process of developing shark detection software and drone technology alongside local tech start-up Airbotix (which has since been acquired by C4D Intel).

He said the plan was to leverage Astron’s key service, the use of drones and development of remote sensing analytics, to launch the Sentinel VDS platform in the hope that it could provide a shark attack mitigation approach that didn’t unnecessarily cull sharks and affect other species. 

In October the Sentinel VDS team travelled to Shark Bay, its first trial site off the coast of Western Australia, which Mr Kruger said was chosen for its prevalence of tiger sharks and diversity of habitat and substrate. 

A volume of verified shark imagery was captured during the field trial and then used as a training set to improve the species detection algorithm, which Mr Kruger said was a substantial milestone to achieve in order to progress to the next stages of development.

“Our ambition with the Shark Bay field trial was to capture enough data to allow us to firstly confirm, and secondly improve upon the veracity of the detection software,” Mr Kruger told Business News.

“To have successfully captured the data and then see it produce a positive and persistent detection result was a tremendous outcome for us.”

Several operational parameters for the unmanned aerial vehicle (drone technology) platform were also tested, including flights at varying altitudes, speeds and environmental conditions.

“For a project like this, the operational parameters are equally important as having the detection software in place, so to be able to validate our approach to both components under a single field trial was a fantastic outcome,” Mr Kruger said.

“These results will allow us to fine-tune the operational requirements for the UAV platform and optimise the ability of Sentinel VDS to detect sharks, process the imagery and alert the operator within the required operational timeframe.

“Our ambition now is to bed down the development gains we have achieved during the Shark Bay campaign and start moving from development trials to operational trials.”

Mr Kruger hopes to achieve this transition by April next year, and said state government authorities had granted a standing licence arrangement through to July 2017 that permitted Sentinel VDS to operate in a number of designated areas along the WA coast.

The team will continue to capture additional footage during the next six months.

“All extra data from here will help us confirm and improve upon our existing technique,” Mr Kruger said.

“Machine learning is a data intensive approach, so the more training we can feed it the better it gets.” 

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