So what will E.M.I.L.Y. do? Could it be a replacement for human lifeguards? Apparently not as the robot has been described as more of a “tool” rather than a replacement. What it does is that it will propel itself to drowning victims and offer them floatation support while they wait for actual human rescue. It has the ability to travel at 25 miles per hour will support up to four people. The device has come with several safety features, such as a screen on the intake valve of the jet pump to prevent fingers and long hair from getting caught.
Although lifeguards operate this version by remote control, next year’s model will autonomously save potential drowning victims as reliably as a human. Once a lifeguard tosses EMILY into the surf, its sonar device will scan for the underwater movements associated with swimmers in distress. Its electric, Jet Ski–like impeller drives it at 28 mph through even the roughest chop, getting a flotation device—itself—to victims six times as fast as a lifeguard would. The ’bot’s camera and speakers will let an onshore lifeguard calm the person and instruct him to wait for human help or to hold on as EMILY ferries him back.
The autonomous version will go on sale next spring for $3,500, says Tony Mulligan, CEO of Hydronalix, the Arizona company developing the ’bot, and will work alongside human lifeguards. “Most lifeguards have spent their life in the ocean, learning how it acts. You can’t give that experience to a computer,” says Brandon Chapman, a Zuma beach lifeguard who tested EMILY. “But I don’t have sonar. If I was out at sea, I would be pretty stoked if EMILY showed up.”
Hydronalix has stated that possible future iterations of E.M.I.L.Y. could come with sonar scanners to help detect objects and possibly people trapped underwater.