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February 26, 2018

Water rescue robot EMILY gets some help from the sky

Drones, thermal imaging and AI upgrades to improve EMILY for larger scale rescues

If you haven't needed the services of the Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard, or EMILY, count yourself lucky. EMILY is called into action by lifeguards and emergency response teams around the world for water rescues.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), roboticist Robin Murphy of Texas A&M and her colleagues are developing some upgrades to make EMILY and other rescue robots "smarter" for large-scale water rescues, such as coming to the aid of a capsized ferry or water taxi.

Among other things, the researchers are working with tethered drones to create an "eye in the sky" combined with onboard thermal sensing to autonomously navigate EMILY to a cluster of people. Because the drone is tethered, no one must "staff" it during rescue operations and it remains clear of any participating aircraft. (The drone seen in this video was flown as part of a field demonstration approved by the Los Angeles County Fire Department.)

Murphy and her team identified some of the technology challenges during field research in the Mediterranean, where the Greek coast guard used EMILY to rescue hundreds of refugees from the water. Since then, the researchers have tested some of their upgrades for EMILY with both the Italian and U.S. Coast Guards.

The research in this episode was supported by NSF grants #1637214, RAPID: Using an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle and Increased Autonomy to Improve an Unmanned Marine Vehicle Lifeguard Assistant Robot; #0923203, Major Research Instrumentation: Acquisition of Mobile, Distributed Instrumentation for Response Research (RESPOND-R); #1135848, RAPID: Sendai Earthquake and Tsunami- Remote Assessment Using Land, Sea and Aerial Unmanned Systems, and #1143713, Shared Visual Common Ground in Human-Robot Interaction for Small Unmanned Aerial Systems. (RAPID, or Rapid Response Research, is a type of proposal used when there is a severe urgency with regard to availability of, or access to, data, facilities or specialized equipment, including quick-response research on disasters and similar events.)

Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent
Kate Tobin, Science Nation Producer

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.