A Lifeguard Drone Just Saved Two Lives in Australia

10-foot swells can best a lifeboat — but not a helicopter

By Athena Wisotsky

 
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24 January 2018

Lennox Head, Australia, became the site of the world’s first unmanned drone ocean rescue last week when two beach-dwellers noticed distant swimmers being pulled out to sea.

The nearest lifeguard station was almost a mile away, but thankfully, the local lifeguard team had brought their Little Ripper rescue drone out for a day of training. It took just a minute for a flotation device to reach the swimmers after a lifeguard deployed the drone. You can watch the footage above.

The manufacturer, Little Ripper Lifesaver, is an initiative of the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter Service, which has been an Australian community service for more than 40 years (Westpac is Australia’s first bank). The Little Rippers cost around $50K, and can deploy emergency pods for land, snow and sea. The company is also testing an electromagnetic shark-repellent device to reduce injuries and fatalities.

The reusable water-triggered flotation device likely saved the lives of the young man and woman, who were facing nearly 10-foot swells that would've bested most small boats. The rescue represents a harrowing piece of empirical evidence in the growing field of unmanned aerial vehicles.

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