Shark hunting drones are set to patrol the skies over Byron Bay beaches after Premier Mike Baird declared they were the “future of rescue” in New South Wales.

Westpac-sponsored trials of the unmanned aerial vehicles are set to begin in Byron Bay, Hawks Nest and Newcastle before being extended throughout the state.

The remote controlled Little Ripper helicopters do more than just detect sharks, with search and rescue uses and even the ability to deploy emergency and first aid equipment, flotation devices and survival kits.

“As Australians, we love the outdoors, and I commend Little Ripper and Westpac for conducting this innovative trial,” Mr Baird said.

“This technology has the potential to improve the way our emergency services respond when people find themselves in trouble.”

Each drone costs about $250,000.

Mr Baird predicted every surf club in the state could eventually have drones added to their rescue arsenals.

Volunteer lifesavers would be trained as pilots and camera operators.

International Life Saving Federation president and philanthropist Kevin Weldon brought together a team of experts to carry out the trial.

The eventual aim is to broaden the drones’ use into natural disasters and other catastrophes to find missing people and help bring them to safety.

Westpac CEO Brian Hartzer said the new technology would revolutionise Australia’s search and rescue capabilities.

“The aim of this trial is to accomplish things with search and rescue that were impossible to even dream about 10 or 20 years ago,” he said.

“It offers exciting new possibilities to unite multiple emergency services in ensuring more effective and rapid deployment in critical search and rescue missions, including in the aftermath of natural disasters.”

The United States-built Vapor 55 drones can stay in the air for about an hour and carry cameras the government hopes can be linked to new software that automatically detects sharks in the water.

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