EMILY, the robotic lifeguard, saves lives

Officially known as the Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard, EMILY is a remote-controlled buoy recently used to rescue nearly 300 Syrian migrants from drowning off the Greek island of Lesbos, Office of Naval Research officials announced May 5.

Outfitted in bright orange, red and yellow colors, each cylindrical EMILY buoy is 4-feet long and weighs 25 pounds. It’s 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.

Created with support from ONR, several EMILY devices are scheduled to be publicly displayed during the 2016 Naval Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Expo and Sea-Air-Space Exposition, in Maryland, USA.

EMILY is the successful culmination of a collaboration between inventor Tony Mulligan, ONR and the Navy’s Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs.

The technology took over 15 years to fully develop — advancing from marine mammal research to 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.”

“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.”

EMILY’s roots stretch back to 2001, when Mulligan received ONR and SBIR-STTR funding to develop a computer- and sensor-operated UAV to monitor whale movements during Navy sonar testing. However, when the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq erupted, Mulligan improved and transformed his vehicles into Silver Fox UAVs in 2003 — which helped U.S. troops conduct aerial surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

In 2011, Mulligan received funding to disassemble existing Silver Foxes and use their components to build unmanned surface vehicles for hurricane tracking, tsunami response and search-and-rescue missions. This technology was built upon to develop EMILY.

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.