Monday, October 25, 2010

What Next: Robot Lifeguards?

"A robot lifeguard patrols Malibu"
Cindy Waxer, Innovation Nation, (October 25, 2010)

"Emily may not be the prettiest thing with plastic parts on bikini-riddled Zuma Beach in Malibu, Calif., but 'she' still turns heads.

"That's because Emily -- whose name is an acronym for Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard -- is a four-foot-long robotic buoy capable of racing through rough surf at 24 miles per hour. Emily's creators estimate that the robot can rescue distressed swimmers twelve times as fast as human lifeguards. Take that, David Hasselhoff!..."

"...The final result is a remote-controlled contraption powered by a tiny electric pump called an impeller, which squirts a forceful stream of water, much like the propulsion system on a Jet Ski. Manufactured by Mulligan's startup, a seven-employee company called Hydronalix in Sahuarita, Ariz., Emily can run up to 80 miles on a single battery charge. The device's foam core is buoyant enough to support up to five people, who cling to Emily's ropes until human aid arrives...."

It looks like a sawed-off red pontoon with a flag - and relies on the drowning victim being alert, and able to grab and hold on to the lines along its side. Also realize that the red torpedo is there to help.

"...'This is a classic example of an inventor's idea of how to solve a problem that doesn't necessarily coincide with reality,' says B. Chris Brewster, president of the United States Lifesaving Association. He notes that a robotic floatation device -- no matter how nifty -- can't save an unconscious swimmer...."

That's a reasonable point.

Still, that 24-knot 'swimming' speed is impressive. And well outside the envelope of what human beings can do.

The Lemming thinks that something like EMILY could be a lifesaver - literally - in situations where getting there fast is important.

Add a camera, arms, and artificial intelligence - and the 'uncooperative victim' issue is dealt with. That'd be a huge upgrade, of course.


Brigid said...

Might help if EMILY is used in conjunction with a human lifeguard. Like the human holding onto EMILY to get to the distressed swimmer fast.

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...


Indeed. I think Brewster was reacting in an all-too-familiar way to new technology. Quite a few folks react as the storied John Henry did to the steam hammer.

EMILY seems to be an excellent addition to lifesaving technology: not a threat to folks in red swimwear.

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