If you're a swimmer splashing around for help in the ocean near Malibu this summer, don't be afraid if you spot a red object speeding toward you. It's not a sunburned shark with a first-aid symbol tattooed on its back, but a robot lifeguard coming to rescue you.
Emily (Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard) is a remote-controlled motorized contraption containing a sonar device that can scan for underwater movements associated with distressed swimmers. Lifeguards toss it into the surf from a beach, aircraft, or ship, and it zooms toward its target at speeds up to 28 mph. Once it's made contact, it can tote swimmers back to shore (traveling up to 80 miles on a single battery charge) or give them something to hold onto until Pamela Anderson arrives.
Emily is being developed by Arizona-based Hydronalix, a maker of maritime robots. The company's CEO, Anthony Mulligan, said the idea for Emily arose from a robotic boat he was developing for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for use in health checks on marine mammals.
"When I realized how well it worked, it dawned on me that if I could tow a life preserver out to someone who was drowning, it would get there much faster than a person swims," Mulligan told the San Diego Union Tribune, which reports that Emily may hit San Diego shores soon. (Currently, the bot's patrolling the popular Zuma Beach along Malibu's Pacific Coast Highway.)
The device measures 54 inches long by 16 inches wide by 8 inches tall and weighs 25 pounds. And it's tricked out with speakers so the lifeguard navigating Emily from land can give instructions to the person being rescued. But if the idea of a manned water-assist robot doesn't float your buoy, get this. Hydronalix says a $3,500, fully autonomous version of Emily will be available by 2011. Take that, David Hasselhoff.