We humans — as, you know, land-based mammals — are not very good swimmers. Let’s check the numbers: Sailfish and marlins have been clocked at speeds of up to 70 mph. Marine mammals like the dolphin can get up to a healthy 40 mph. Olympian Michael Phelps’ fastest swim speed? About 6 mph.
That means even the strongest beach lifeguards — fighting tides and surf — take a long time to get to offshore swimmers in distress. But thanks to a frankly excellent idea currently being tested on the beaches of Chile, lifeguards are getting some help from aerial rescue drones.
Inspired by similar test projects in Iran, the rescue drone project equips lifeguard teams on busy public beaches with their own remote-controlled UAVs. Each drone comes with multiple underslung flotation devices that can be flown out over the waves and dropped to a swimmer in trouble.
The drones are also outfitted with a camera that can transmit a live feed to lifeguards on the shore, plus loudspeakers for issuing instructions to the swimmer. Painted bright red and hovering above the water, the drone itself serves as a marker for human lifeguards swimming to the scene.
Initial tests suggest that the drone system could be a significant and potentially life-saving improvement to current lifeguard set-ups, especially on beaches where no watercraft are available. The rescue drones in the Chilean beach tests reached their destination in an average of 30 seconds — a full three times quicker than the fastest lifeguards.