The brutal waves of the Pacific, an untested drone, a daring rescue operation: In Australia, the plot of a recent, world’s first drone rescue sounds like the opening scene of a 21st century action movie.
On Thursday, two teenage boys got caught in a nearly 10-foot swell almost half a mile off the coast of New South Wales, along Australia’s southeastern edge. Lifeguards were in the process of testing out a new piece of tech, a drone from Little Ripper Life Saver, when they received the distress call. They deployed the drone, which swiftly spotted the two swimmers. The drone then dropped a flotation device to the duo, who were able to swim and hang onto it. They were then able to swim successfully to shore themselves.
Northern New South Wales’ parliamentary secretary Ben Franklin reported that the entire operation took a mere 70 seconds. Normally, such a rescue—with lifeguards swimming out to the stranded individuals—would take around six minutes. This was the first time this kind of technology has been used to save swimmers battling the waves.
On top of that, the drone recorded footage of the entire event, which you can view on Dropbox here.
Last year, the government of New South Wales made a $340,000 (U.S.) investment in a partially AI-outfitted drone fleet that would be used primarily to monitor for sharks. If a large shark is detected in the area, lifeguards can quickly make the call for swimmers to evacuate the water, if needed.
For lifeguards, the drones act as a second pair of eyes. Flying nearly 197 feet in the air and moving at speeds up to 31 mph, a drone can help lifeguards scope out the beach and the ocean with unprecedented clarity.
“They’ve never had that ability before,” Kelvin Morton, Surf Life Saving NSW project manager for unmanned aerial vehicles told ABC North Coast Australia. “They can see things in the water that a jet-ski simply cannot.”
With such a successful first day on the job for the drone, you can expect other coastal governments across the globe will follow suit.
H/T The Verge