Lifeguards have a tough job. They have to stay focused at all times and be ready to go from sitting to swimming hard in a matter of seconds. It's especially challenging because drowning doesn't always look like drowning. But no matter how fast lifeguards swim, they still need time to reach drowning victims. New efforts to get drones involved could significantly reduce the time it takes to deploy help, though.
A pilot project at beaches in Chile is using remote-controlled unmanned aerial vehicles – UAVs – to deliver floatation devices to swimmers who are in danger. AETecno reports that the drones can fly about three-quarters of a mile and have GPS for alternative navigation. They are also equipped with external speakers to give instructions or reassurance to swimmers, and they have video cameras so lifeguards on the shore can see what's going on and where to drop flotation devices. At night, the drones’ LED fixtures can illuminate a victim in the water.
In a rescue, a drone goes out to the victim, drops a floatation device, and then hovers, while a lifeguard actually swims to the scene. That way the floatation device gets there first and the drone can act as a marker for the lifeguard who is swimming out. So far in the pilot program the drones have been able to reach victims in 30 seconds on average, which is three minutes faster than standard response from human lifeguards.
The program in Chile is run by Green Solution and X-Cam, but other companies are working on bringing similar lifeguard drones to market as well. One lifeguard UAV project had excellent results in Iran last year. As the lifeguard drones develop, they will likely get other features, like the ability to dock on floating solar charge stations.
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Taco delivery drones don’t seem to be popping up yet, but lifeguard drones appear to be an effective solution that may actually proliferate. Water safety is probably a more pressing concern than food delivery, anyway.