May 29, 2012 at 2:25 PM ET
Just in time for the summer season, so-called robot lifeguards are hitting the beach on both coasts of the U.S.
“E.M.I.L.Y. is a means to assist lifeguards and first responder who respond to drowning victims,” Bob Lautrup, the robot’s co-inventor and president of Hydonalix told me Monday.
“It is a tool, not a replacement, but it is a way to deliver floatation to a drowning victim at a long distance.”
The lifeguards are essentially remote-controlled jet-ski-like buoys that can reach and stabilize victims as they wait for a human rescue.
The buoy can travel at speeds up 25 miles per hour (any faster and it would be considered a projectile) and will stay afloat with up to four people hanging on to it.
E.M.I.L.Y. stands for Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard. Lautrup’s company Hydronalix unveiled the concept two and a half years ago and recently starting selling commercial versions.
The Los Angeles County Lifeguards at Zuma Beach in Malibu helped improve the design of the prototype and are the first to put the $10,000 tool to use. (Check NBC Los Angeles’ video of it in action.)
E.M.I.L.Y. is also being deployed in Depot Bay, Oregon and Westerly, Rhode Island, noted Lautrup.
Since E.M.I.L.Y.’s unveiling, it has gained safety features such as a screen on the intake valve of the jet pump to prevent little kids’ fingers and long hair from getting sucked into the machinery.
"That took us a little bit of effort to make sure that we did it in a way which met safety objectives buy also in a way that did not wipe out the efficiency of the jet pump," Lautrup noted.
They’ve also added hand loops on the side to make it easier for victims to hold on as they wait for a rescue and outfitted some versions with a rope so that it can be pulled in to shore.
Future versions may come with the option of a sonar scanner to look for objects and people trapped below the surface.
While E.M.I.L.Y. isn’t a replacement for human lifeguards, it is a welcome addition to the beach and nice to see a friendly-robot like technology out to save human lives, not to destroy them.
--Via NBC Los Angeles
John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website and follow him on Twitter. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.