The Australian Department of Defence is conducting trails to test the potential of an artificial intelligence (AI) system in the Ai-Search project at sea.

Tests conducted in the search-and-rescue (SAR) trials as part of the project will recognise the potential of AI to augment and enhance SAR and to save lives at sea.

The project is conducted in collaboration with Warfare Innovation Navy Branch, Plan Jericho, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Air Mobility Group’s No 35 Squadron, and the University of Tasmania’s Australian Maritime College.

Modern AI is used for the detection of small and difficult-to-spot targets, including life rafts and individual survivors.

Plan Jericho AI lead wing commander Michael Gan said: “The idea was to train a machine-learning algorithm and AI sensors to complement existing visual search techniques.

“Our vision was to give any aircraft and other defence platforms, including unmanned aerial systems, a low-cost, improvised SAR capability.”

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A series of new machine-learning algorithms were developed for the AI. Deterministic processes to analyse the imagery collected by camera sensors and aid human observers were also used.

Last year saw the first successful trial conducted aboard a RAAF C-27J Spartan. The second trial was performed last month near Stradbroke Island, Queensland.

During these trials, a range of small targets were detected in a wide sea area while training the algorithm as part of the project.

The trials highlighted the feasibility of the technology and its easy integration into other Australian Defence Forces (ADF) airborne platforms.

Warfare Innovation Navy Branch lieutenant Harry Hubbert said: “There is a lot of discussion about AI in Defence but the sheer processing power of machine-learning applied to SAR has the potential to save lives and transform it.”