Remote-Controlled Buoy Rescues Migrants

Published May 8, 2016 8:41 PM by The Maritime Executive

EMILY, the U.S. Navy’s remote-controlled robotic lifeguard, officially known as the Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard, was recently used to rescue nearly 300 Syrian migrants from drowning off the Greek island of Lesbos.

The buoy, created with support from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), is capable of punching through 30-foot waves and riptides or smashing into rocks and reefs. 

EMILY is the successful culmination of a collaboration between ONR inventor Tony Mulligan and the Navy's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer programs. The program provides the Navy with innovative advances in technology created by small firms.

The technology took over 15 years to fully develop, advancing from marine mammal research and unmanned aerial vehicles in Iraq.

"EMILY's 15-year progression is inspiring," said SBIR Director Bob Smith. "From whale monitoring efforts, to supporting warfighters in harm's way, to impacting global humanitarian efforts, EMILY is a classic overnight success story years in the making."

Outfitted in bright orange, red and yellow colors, each cylindrical EMILY buoy is four feet long and weighs 25 pounds. It is powered by a jet engine system similar to a mini jet ski, shoots a water jet stream for propulsion and travels up to 22 mph. EMILY also has two-way communication radios, a video camera with a live feed to smartphones and lights for night rescues.

"EMILY is made of Kevlar and aircraft-grade composites and is virtually indestructible," said Mulligan, CEO of Hydronalix, a maritime robotics company. "The devices can be thrown off a helicopter or bridge and then driven via remote control to whoever needs to be rescued." Up to eight people can hug the device while awaiting rescue.

Mulligan works with Texas A&M University's Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue, and they are aiming to make EMILY autonomous.

Mulligan is partner in Roboticists Without Borders. The end goal of the group is for responders all over the world to own and regularly deploy truly usable robots by 2021.

Mulligan has provided more than 260 EMILY devices to navies, coast guards and search-and-rescue units in South Korea, Indonesia, Singapore, the United Kingdom, France, Mongolia, Brazil, Mexico and Greece. U.S. rescue teams in Oregon and Washington, D.C., have also expressed interest in the robotic lifeguard, and Austin Fire Department is currently testing EMILY.