Space & Innovation

Lifeguard Drone Seven Times Faster Than Humans

System being tested on Chilean beaches uses UAVs equipped with flotation devices.

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:

Aug. 14, 2012 --

What better time than Shark Week to dive into the water with our favorite underwater gadgets? They may not protect you from a peckish great white, but they'll certainly let you do more than just bob in the water, chum. So without further adieu, some serious sea-minded devices for you to sink your teeth into. GOTTA SEE VIDEOS: Animals Acting Like Sharks

Snorkeling Master Watch: $114.99

If you're a diver who likes data as much as avoiding the bends, the electro-luminescent backlit Snorkeling Master Watch is the timepiece for you. Just tell it whether you're exploring the abyss of a lake or sea site and it'll do the rest, automatically logging stats for up to 100 dives. With a range of -10 to 60 degrees Celsuius and zero to 100 meters down, it'll track your starting date and time, dive duration, lowest water temp and max depth reached. Best of all, if you're resurfacing too fast (greater than six meters per minute), an alarm will warn you.

Princeton Tec Shockwave LED: $149.99

Looking to light your way through the briny deep down to 100 meters? The UL-certified Shockwave LED is PTec's most powerful handheld. Pop in 8 C cell batteries and it'll throw a focused wide beam 400 Lumens strong of about 160 meters (on high) for 16 hours, or roughly 124 meters (on low) for up to 26 hours. Also, in case you're looking to color coordinate with your drysuit, this fully heatsinked, ergonomic underwater light is available in black, blue, pink or yellow.

Hydro Tracker: $129.99

Whereas lap swimmers need to know how to do that fancy underwater flip, you open water swimmers want to know your splits, speed, distance, accumulated time and elevation. Just clip a precalibrated Hydro Tracker to your goggle straps and you're ready to use GPS to track your performance. Its rechargeable battery will keep up with you for 8 to 16 hours, depending on how you adjust the sampling rate. Whether you're a Mac or PC user, you'll be able to view and zoom in on your route with online mapping. And the included neoprene armband makes it a natural for tracking the trails you blaze on dry land.

DryBuds Sport: $39.99

Just because you like to snorkel or splash around the pool doesn't mean you can't bring along your own soundtrack. In fact, DryBuds Sport earphones have a built-in microphone. So you'll not only be able to groove to your favorite tracks in and around the water, but take those all-important calls (even as your friends splash you for being a dork). These buds are waterproof for up to three hours at three meters. Of course, your music player also needs to be waterproof -- or in a case that is.

LifeProof Nuud case for iPad: $129.99 (expected price)

Known for their super-protective minimalist iPhone cases, LifeProof is about to release their Nuud case for second and third generation iPads. What makes it "nude" (dual umlauts notwithstanding) is that there's no built-in screen protector. LifeProof feels this avoids visual degradation as it maintains the touch experience. Although something about that description in the context of frontal nudity just sounds wrong, it's pretty cool technology. This case is designed to help your trusty tablet withstand dirt, shocks, snow and water to the IP-68 military standard, while still leaving its screen free and clear and its buttons and features fully functional. If fact, a special port even enhances the audio through the iPad's so-so native speakers. As with the phone cases, these will come with a general use headphone adapter and be compatible with their $20 swimming headphone adapter accessory for extended underwater use. It's currently available for pre-order on LifeProof's site and will be offered in Best Buy stores next month.

Aqua Tek S for iPhone 4/4S: $129.99 (includes U.S. shipping)

Back in March, the Aqua Tek S for iPhone 4/4S more than doubled its funding goal, as around 900 enthusiastic Kickstarters clammored for one (or more) of these cases. They're as power-packed, versatile and rugged as Rambo, with a built-in 2,000mAh battery, solar panel, polycarbonate exterior and rubberized side grips. They can withstand drops from -- or underwater depths of -- up to six meters. Given all that along with its temperature range -- scores of degrees Celsius cooler and warmer than iPhone can actually operate -- it's definitely the case to take on your extreme (underwater or otherwise) adventures. It's estimated to be shipping right at the end of this month.

GoPro Wi-Fi BacPac and Remote Combo Kit: $99.99

Strapping on a single tiny, sturdy hands-free HD video cam is so 2011. GoPro's new Wi-Fi BacPac and Remote allow you to control up to 50 rugged little cameras at once from up to 600 feet away! The combo kit starts you with one BacPac and remote -- both of which are rechargeable. The BacPac -- which comes with special waterproof and non-waterproof backdoors to accommodate its extra thickness -- is what enables the HD Hero to be remotely controlled. The remote control itself is both wearable and waterproof down to three meters. For each HD Hero you want to control remotely, you'll need an additional BacPac unit (also sold sans remote). Stay tuned this fall for the release of a GoPro companion app that'll allow you to use your smartphone to preview, transfer and live stream HD video.

HydroView: $3,995

Before you set foot or fin in the water, have the HydroView scope out the scene below the surface. As you remotely navigate the cute, curvy little vessel using your iPad, laptop, Android or iOS phone, you can capture high-def video and stills. It's great for divers checking out a location, boaters protecting their watercraft or would-be treasure trawlers. This cool and handy recon sub comes with 75 feet of cable, 4 GB of memory and a Wi-Fi enabled topside box, each of which can be upgraded.

DiverBike Maribus X4: $11,757.80 to 18,194.59 (converted from euros)

Is it harder to believe that "Thunderball" is almost 50 years old or that the cool diverbikes featured in that famous flick are finally emerging (so to speak)? Either way, recreational divers will thrill to ride a new DiverBike Maribus X4. At depths down to 40 meters, this two-meter long underwater scooter can go 20 km/h for up to four hours. (Deadly spear shooting accessory optional.)

Sea Life DC1400 Pro Duo Set: $1,099.95

You don't have to look twice at Sea Life's DC1400 Pro Duo Set to know it's a seriously seaworthy rig. The DC1400 camera itself (similar to the DC1200 pictured in action above) comes with a super macro auto-focusing wide angle lens; has been depth tested down to 60 meters; and is easy to operate even with gloves on, thanks to its big controls. It features six underwater modes and four built-in color correction filters. It'll let you automatically shoot stills at set time intervals or continuous high-def video with sound. And it really shines with the included Digital Pro Flash and Photo/Video Light. The flash is manually tunable and easily aimed with its flexible, rubberized arm. When detecting an external flash, the 500 lumen photo/video light automatically dims for a couple of seconds. It features a detachable head (great for illuminating lurking sea monsters and deep crevasses) and eight customized light modes. When you're ready to take your underwater photography to the next level down, this is the set to sail with. PHOTOS: 10 Trickiest Spy Gadgets Ever