About our name: The Ripper Group company 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: Westpac 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 Founding Partnership – Westpac
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 CEO of Westpac, at the Westpac Helicopter Ball.
Hartzer immediately saw the possibilities. Two weeks later they were given the opportunity to present the whole vision to Westpac at their head office. This meeting was later recorded by Westpac as “an unusual meeting – a bank sitting down with a small company founded by Weldon, the first president of the International Life Saving Federation, and Paul Scully-Power AM, the first Australian-born person to journey into space, to discuss working on the possibility of developing a search and rescue service in Australia using remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS).”
The Rest is History…
“The Westpac 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 11:30am (AEDT) involved two people on the beach, Surf Life Saving NSW’s Jai Sheridan flying the drone and a Westpac Little Ripper senior trainer, marking what is believed to be the first time globally a drone was involved in an ocean rescue.”
From the development of the strategy to the testing, training and final deployment, the relationship with Westpac continues to pay dividends in a way that only the rescue of life can measure.