Westpac drone
The Little Ripper drone is beginning a pilot project patrolling the shores for people in trouble — and will soon be used to spot sharks. Courtesy of Westpac

The battle against an increasing number of shark attacks on Australian swimmers just went high tech. Miniature drones will soon be patrolling the shores of New South Wales to spot the dangerous fish.

A long-range, battery-powered mini-helicopter drone nicknamed Little Ripper is being launched in a new pilot project to help people in trouble on land and in the water.

The $250,000 (£180,000) drone is capable of up to one hour of flight time per charge and is equipped with a high-tech camera which handlers aim to use for shark spotting employing a software algorithm currently under development.

The shark-spotting information may be used to alert swimmers or to mobilize the coast guard to drive the sharks away from beaches.

In addition, Little Ripper will be tested with an eye to spotting — and helping — anyone in an emergency situation, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

The drone can be equipped with different "pods" tailor-made for aid in the sea, snow and on land which can be dropped to people in distress. A life-saving pod for people at sea, for example, would include an inflatable raft, a locator beacon and shark repellent

Made in the United States, the military grade Vapor 55 drone is more stable in cross winds than regular drones, and is a cheaper and more agile alternative to helicopter rescue.

The drones would be run by Australia's Westpac, which currently has 17 full-sized rescue helicopters on the job in the nation.

The push for Little Ripper was in part spurred by the government's announcement of a $11.4m (£8.2m) shark-protection strategy that would include drones and listening stations. The funding was approved amid fears about the rising number shark attacks and sightings in the area in 2015.

There were a record 98 unprovoked shark attacks in 2015 worldwide, according to the latest figures from the International Shark Attack File based at the University of Florida. While the vast majority of the attacks happened off the US coast, 18 people were targeted by the saw-toothed fish off Australian beaches.