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Drones to monitor crowds at Sydney beaches this summer

Surf Life Saving NSW and Northern Beaches Council will use UAVs to monitor beaches to maintain Covid-19 safety.

Announced Friday by Surf Life Saving NSW CEO Steven Pearce and Northern Beaches Council Mayor Michael Regan, the new initiative will see Surf Life Saving NSW UAV pilots monitoring crowds at beaches and parks in the city’s north.

Michael Regan said the data is intended to help keep beaches and recreational areas open over what is projected to be one of the busiest summers for Sydney beaches.

“This partnership is a critical part of our summer COVID safety operations. Our aim is to keep our popular beaches and parks open so locals and visitors alike can enjoy them to the full this summer,” he said.

“Using this real-time data we can even more effectively manage our public spaces and reduce the COVID risk to beachgoers.”

The UAV surveillance is intended to work together with the Beachsafe app and website to provide current data on beach attendance. Despite the slight dystopian cast, UAVs have been an important part of Surf Life Saving NSW’s beach monitoring for some time, aiding swimmers in distress and watching for nearby sharks.

More recently, Australia’s Ripper Group had been adapting its UAVs for Covid-19 disinfection roles in China.

Surf Life Saving NSW CEO Steven Pearce said that drones have become an indispensable tool in Surf Life Saving operations.

“In addition to providing important beach attendance information to councils and police who make beach access decisions, our UAVs are used for marine creature surveillance, search and rescue operations and spot beach hazards such as rips,” he said.

“We’ve been working with councils on smart ways to keep beaches open this summer ahead of what’s going to be a massive season on the NSW coastline. Nobody, least of all surf lifesavers, wants to close beaches, so the more information we can give people about beach attendance, ahead of them arriving on the sand to find it nearing COVID-safe attendance limits, the better.”

Surveys have shown that many beachgoers prefer the presence of UAVs for such purposes to full sized, manned helicopters for beach patrols — it remains to be seen how crowds react to this expansion of duties.

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