Meet EMILY, the Rugged Robotic Lifeguard

Hydronalix / Hydronalix

It may look like an overgrown duffel bag, but EMILY will surprise you. This Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard (EMILY) is a state-of-the-art, tough-as-nails robotic lifeguard, with some pretty impressive missions under its belt.

The 25-pound, four-foot-long EMILY device is made of a high-tech core surrounded by a bright, buoyant jacket. Its jet engine can zoom it through the water at 22 mph. Inner workings made of Kevlar and aircraft-grade composites make EMILY “virtually indestructible,” inventor Tony Mulligan said in a press statement. “The devices can be thrown off a helicopter or bridge and then driven by via remote control to whoever needs to be rescued.” 

Mulligan first envisioned EMILY as an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that could monitor the effects of Navy sonar testing on whales. He got funding from the Navy’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) division in 2001, and had just dug in to the process when America entered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So Mulligan put aside his sonar project and converted his UAV prototypes into military surveillance drones called Silver Foxes.

Ten years later, the Navy granted Mulligan fresh funding to take apart existing Silver Foxes and use their parts to build unmanned surface vehicles, with an eye to weather monitoring and search-and-rescue missions. From these parts, EMILY was born.

In the last few years, Mulligan and his company have sent more than 260 EMILY robots to navies, coast guards, and search-and-rescue units in South Korea, Indonesia, Singapore, the United Kingdom, France, Mongolia, Brazil, Mexico, and Greece. EMILY recently proved its mettle in the waters off the Greek island of Lesbos, where operators were able to use EMILY to rescue nearly 300 Syrian refugees from drowning.