The Ripper Corporation
In early 2021, The Ripper Group and Surf Life Saving Queensland joined forces to establish Ripper Corporation, in a move that will revolutionise lifesaving across Queensland, Australia, and the world.
SLSQ’s investment in the rebranded Ripper Corporation will leverage Ripper’s market-leading capabilities in drone rescue deployment, training, research, and development to immediately enhance existing surf lifesaving operations, with plans to ultimately extend the enterprise’s offering into wider disaster responses.
Since its establishment in 2015, The Ripper Group has led the world in the utilisation of drones for search and rescue, developing among other innovations the first “droppable” surf lifesaving rescue pod in addition to SharkSpotter and CrocSpotter recognition technology, which are all underpinned by AI algorithms.
Beyond making our beaches safer, Little Ripper drones, all equipped with high-definition cameras, have conducted post-bushfire wildlife assessments, inspected underground mines, and, pending regulatory approval, stand ready to act as long-range, beyond-line-of-sight “eyes in the sky” for coastal monitoring and management.
The joint enterprise combines The Ripper Group’s unrivaled pedigree with SLSQ’s 540 staff, 34,000 volunteers, training infrastructure, and impeccable brand equity. They are united in SLSQ’s mission of zero preventable deaths in Queensland public waters, including beaches, waterways and lagoons.
The Ripper name is drawn from a popular Australian phrase, “You Little Ripper!” The word ripper used in this way means “absolutely excellent, or something exciting extreme approval” (Macquarie Dictionary). It’s the perfect name for a company that utilises its expertise in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to pioneer changes in the way we rescue, record, maintain, inform and identify.
In the immediate aftermath of devastating Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed most of New Orleans in 2005, Kevin Weldon, the founder of the Ripper Group, observed on a late-night news broadcast an unmanned drone helicopter flying along flooded streets searching for survivors. This was the first deployment of drones in a disaster and they were instrumental in helping to find some 5000 people, stranded and alive inside their flooded homes. The drones sent pictures back to the Central Control, which then dispatched rescue teams to those in trouble.
As the founding president of the International Life Saving Federation, Kevin knew that this new drone technology could change the reach, speed, and capability of rescue in Australia. Whilst head of International Life Saving, Kevin had a track record of supporting innovations in surf rescue on Australia’s beaches: Lifesaver Rescue Helicopters, the ‘rubber ducky’ inflatable rescue boat, and torpedo rescue tubes.
“The aim…(is) to accomplish things with search and rescue that were impossible to even dream about 10 or 20 years ago,” Mr Weldon said
Our First Rescue
It would be some time before the RPAS/drone industry developed the technology and AI capability for this new rescue capability to be realised. Kevin Weldon kept the vision alive until he had the opportunity to sit next to Brian Hartzer, the then CEO of Westpac Bank, at the Helicopter Ball.
Hartzer immediately saw the possibilities. With Westpac’s seed grant funding, Weldon then established The Ripper Group in 2016 to work on the development of a search and rescue service in Australia using remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) with hi-tech Ai capabilities.”
Two years later in January 2018 the Little Ripper Lifesaver drone helped save two teenage boys in wild surf at Lennox Head beach, about 750 kilometres north of Sydney, by dropping a ‘rescue pod’, which self-inflated once hitting the water. The dramatic rescue at around 11:30 am (AEDT) involved two people on the beach, Surf Life Saving NSW’s Jai Sheridan flying the drone and a Little Ripper senior trainer, marking what is believed to be the first time globally a drone was involved in an ocean rescue.”