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.
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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.
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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.
A video of the rescue drone system is quickly making the rounds online, you can see it here: