BIG crowds, strong surf and powerful rip currents are only a few of the obstacles that lifeguards must overcome to keep swimmers safe.
Strong winds can pull many bathers out to sea simultaneously, overwhelming the guards if there are only a few of them. And, since average swimming speed is about 3kph (2mph) even a single rescue mission can take more than half an hour.
A profession ripe, then, for automation. And that automation is now at hand. Hydronalix, a marine-robotics firm based, rather surprisingly, in landlocked Arizona, has come up with EMILY—the Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard. This device, which is being tested at Zuma beach in Malibu, California, is a remote-controlled, 1.4-metre-long, 11kg buoy with a foam core covered by red canvas and surrounded by ropes. A human lifeguard can keep but a single person afloat. EMILY, by contrast, is buoyant enough to save five at a time. The ropes let swimmers cling to the device or climb on top of it until a lifeguard arrives on the scene.
EMILY can be deployed from the shoreline, or tossed from a boat or aircraft. It is powered by an electric impeller of the kind used on jet skis, can travel 12 times as fast as a lifeguard, can make tight turns in choppy waters and can run for up to 130km on a single battery charge.