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Surf, sea, sand, survival – Surf Life Saving South Australia gets airborne

Published by Josh Spires on 06 May, 2019

Surf, sea, sand, survival – Surf Life Saving South Australia gets airborne

With drones active and already successful in multiple ground-based search and rescue operations across the globe, it was only a matter of time before they were engaged across our beaches and oceans in pursuit of bather safety.

With more than 35,000 kilometres of coastline and our love of the salt and foam, Australia is the perfect location to partner surf lifesaving with drone technology.

Indeed, a recent 2018 trial of drone technology in surf lifesaving, unexpectedly turned from a planned demonstration event into a life and death situation when two boys were caught 700m offshore. The demonstration drone was quickly engaged, located the boys and deployed a flotation device. Both boys survived  – but it could well have become a tragedy.

Surf Life Saving Australia reaches out to Sphere Drones

As Australia’s leading commercial drone solutions provider, it was natural for SLSA to contact Sphere Drones to (collectively) develop a custom drone and payload solution that would not only provide an audible (siren) warning for bathers that were straying outside safe swimming areas, but have the ability to accurately deploy a floatation device to those in trouble.

A custom solution

Phantom 4 Pro

After careful consideration of SLSA’s needs, the DJI Phantom 4 Pro drone was chosen given its overall ability and flexibility.  For searching and recording, its 20-megapixel camera capable of shooting 4K/60fps video and stills at 14 fps – was ideal for SLSA’s imaging needs. Both rigid in construction and lightweight it is field-rugged, yet portable.

It also features a ‘Flight Autonomy’ system with dual rear vision cameras and infrared sensing systems for a total of 5-direction obstacle sensing and 4-direction of obstacle avoidance. On busy public beaches, this was essential.

As important, its flight ability under load was critical given the payload requirements of the solution.

Audible warning and flotation payload

The design for these solutions initially began with sourcing and testing the electronic components that would be central to the solution.

In the case of both the remote siren sounding and deployment of the inflatable, the solution needed to be able to be remotely managed at a range of 3km.

Once the final component designs were determined, several potential ‘mount housings’ were developed to suit the Phantom 4 Pro.  Through an iterative and in-house 3D print process, these were manufactured and tested to ensure the solution was not only functional, but (aesthetically) met the client brief.    


The final design of the solution was aerodynamic and streamline. Through careful consideration of weight and centre of gravity, the overall solution was not only able to engage the warning siren and precisely deploy a self-inflating life raft from a 3km range, but do this with minimal flight impact on the Phantom 4 Pro.

Getting underway

If you are new to drone technology or simply want to learn more, we highly recommend you speak to a commercial drone specialist that can advise you on both drone options and the best approach to their commercial use in applications such as search and rescue.

Sphere Drones is arguably Australia’s leading source of expertise on commercial drone technology solutions in Australia.

Their Sydney-based operation is a state-of-the-art solutions development facility with some of the UAV industry’s leading personnel – making it (or their website) a logical first step to learn more about or identify a solution for your commercial needs.

Want to know more?

Ask your questions below and our team will get in touch with you.

Want to know more?

Ask your questions below and our team will get in touch with you.