A new type of drone was being tested by Australian lifeguards on Thursday when it was roped into the real-life rescue of two teenagers caught in rough, 9-foot (2.7-meter) swells off the coast New South Wales.
In a world first, the high-tech unmanned automated vehicle (UAV) delivered a large floatation device to the distressed swimmers, enabling them to paddle closer to the shore while actual human lifeguards raced to the scene. Video from the drone’s cameras captured this moment, below:
“I was able to launch it, fly it to the location, and drop the pod all in about one to two minutes,” said Jai Sheridan, a supervisor lifeguard who was piloting the drone, in a statement. “On a normal day that would have taken our lifeguards a few minutes longer to reach the members of the public.”
In addition to the floatation device we saw deployed, the specialized UAV comes with a defibrillator, electromagnetic shark repellant device, and personal survival kit.
The idea to utilize drone technology for robo-lifeguarding stems from a partnership between an organization called Surf Life Saving New South Wales and the Australian government’s $16 million (AUD) shark deterrent program. For the past 18 months, this collaborative group has been using a different model of the UVA to monitor sharks along popular areas of coastline. These versions are equipped with camera-linked software that can recognize the shape of a shark in the water below and send an alert to operators.
Creating a drone platform with the technology and payload capability necessary to meet the project’s specifications took three years, according to manufacturer Westpac Little Ripper.
The trend of using unmanned craft for lifesaving operations has swept other nations as well. In the US, law enforcement and search and rescue agencies are rapidly incorporating aerial drones to expand their capabilities.
A leader in this field is the Texas-based Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR), a crisis response and research organization whose experts and devices have assisted during disasters for almost 20 years. Their deployments include the collapse of the World Trade Center (2001), Hurricane Katrina (2005), and the Japanese tsunami of 2011. The organization also develop next-generation technology
Meanwhile in the Mediterranean, a remote-controlled floating tube – cutely named EMILY (for Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard) – has been put to work helping refugees who have capsized while trying to cross the sea into Greece.