SharkEye uses drones and AI to keep beachgoers safe from sharks

SharkEye is a new project in Southern California that uses drones and artificial intelligence (AI) to keep beachgoers safe from sharks. Similar to surf reports, SharkEye strives to release a shark report so that swimmers and surfers can assess the level of risk before entering the waters of Southern California.

SharkEye uses drones and AI to assess how safe the waters are

The sharks that are coming close to shore and hence pose a greater risk to people in the water are mostly juvenile great whites, that are believed to prefer the warmer, shallower waters near the beaches.

“When these little fins started to pop up, everyone was scrambling to figure out what was going on,” said Douglas J. McCauley, a marine science professor and the director of the Benioff Ocean Initiative at the University of California, Santa Barbara, reports the NY Times.

SharkEye uses drones and AI to keep beachgoers safe in California

Dr. McCauley’s lab is working on a new project called SharkEye that uses drones and AI to spot these fearsome predators. The SharkEye team partners with AI researchers from Salesforce, the company that is led by Marc Benioff, who sponsors the SharkEye project, as well as computer scientists at San Diego State University.

Over the last two summers, the SharkEye project has been testing at Padaro Beach in Santa Barbara County. This part of the Pacific is not only popular with beachgoers and surfers but also happens to be a great white shark nursery.

Using AI and drones to spot sharks is a big step up from the more traditional methods that would include lifeguards with binoculars and people on paddleboards keeping an eye out for any predators.

The drones that spot for great white sharks as part of the SharkEye project, fly preprogrammed routes at an altitude of 120 feet so that large sections of the ocean can be covered quickly.

A drone pilot monitors the entire flight in real-time and when a shark is spotted a text message is sent out to a group of 36 people, that include lifeguards, surf instructors, and beachside homeowners who have signed up to get shark alerts.

SharkEye uses drones and AI to keep beachgoers safe in California

Dr. McCauley said that the SharkEye team is working on being able to send out different types of alerts to notify people of any risks before entering the water.

The drone videos that are collected go into a computer model, which combines the footage with other data such as water temperature and migration information on other mating life to develop a shark risk forecast report that could help to keep the oceans as safe as possible.

The increase in sharks near the shores of California is partially due to the changing climate, according to scientists.

While AI is excepted to improve the accuracy of the shark reports, other groups such as Pelagios Kakunjá, a Mexican conservation organization, have been observing sharks with drones alone.

While both the shark population and the number of beachgoers are increasing, there have ‘only’ been 118 shark attacks with six fatalities, since 2000, according to the nonprofit Shark Research Committee. And there is no evidence that the number of shark attacks is increasing, according to Chris Lowe, a professor in marine biology and the director of the Shark Lab at California State University, Long Beach.

For the last couple of years, Australia has been at the forefront of using drones to patrol the beaches. Companies like the Ripper Group have been using drones and AI software to quickly scan the ocean for sharks and other potential threats. For instance, the software is able to distinguish between surfers, swimmers, bodyboarders, dolphins, sharks, and other marine life. The little ripper drones in combination with the AI software provide lifeguards with a quick overview of the situation in the water and the potential dangers lurking underneath the surface.

So far it seems that drones, especially when combined with AI are a very efficient tool to spot marine predators and to help keep beachgoers safe.

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Photo credits: Benioff Ocean Initiative, University of California Santa Barbara

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Haye Kesteloo

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