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Emily, A robot lifeguard patrols Malibu

posted Jan 28, 2011, 12:31 AM by Cesar Harada

The final result is a remote-controlled contraption powered by a tiny electric pump called an impeller, which squirts a forceful stream of water, much like the propulsion system on a Jet Ski. Manufactured by Mulligan's startup, a seven-employee company called Hydronalix in Sahuarita, Ariz., Emily can run up to 80 miles on a single battery charge. The device's foam core is buoyant enough to support up to five people, who cling to Emily's ropes until human aid arrives.

That's a huge help, considering that strong riptides can yank multiple swimmers out to sea at once. Under such conditions, it can take lifeguards more than half an hour to complete a single rescue mission.

"From a technology perspective, [Emily] is quite innovative," says Howie Choset, a robotics professor at Carnegie Mellon University. "To be able to maneuver such a small craft through choppy waters straight to a drowning victim is incredible."