In the last months we've been witnessing a refugee crisis of huge proportions. More than a million people crossed the sea to flee violence in Africa and the Middle-East. Together with a team from Texas A&M University, the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue is launching a pilot project this week for a very special robot: Emily, the Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard.
The Syrian actual situation is particularly unstable and severe, forcing people to seek shelter in the neighboring countries, such as Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon. Some of them prefer heading towards Europe choosing the Mediterranean Sea "shortcut", risking their lives in unhuman travel conditions.
Almost 4000 people lost their lives, and the number does not seem to stop here. To try to save the lives of a great number of refugees who arrive at the shores of the Greek island of Lesvos, the Greek Coast Guard is seeking help in technology.
Emily is a lifeguard robot that thanks to a 609 meters long cable attached either to a boat or to the shore can rescue people lost at sea and then bring them to safety. With a full charge Emily can run up to 20 miles per hour for about 20 minutes, a period sufficient to save a good number of people, it’s bouncy enough to hold five people at once. The robot is guided by a Coat Guard operator that can also prioritize those people who are not able to grasp a traditional aid buoys.
“We can run the boat out there and we can start plucking people that can actually hold on and get them out of the way” said John Sims, a fire captain formerly of the US Coast Guard, who’s operating the robots for the deployment. “And then the live lifeguard can do his job and get out there to get the unconscious people”.
This is a whole new test for Emily that before only helped struggling swimmers in the States, but of course this risky and very delicate situation is something else. “One has to be a little bit careful” says M. Ani Hsieh, co-chair of the Safety, Security and Rescue Robotics committee at the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society. “What many people who work with rescue robots will tell you is a lot of things start with good intentions. You never really know what the best use is for a robot until you actually have people on the ground and see things being tested”.
The Texas team now started raising funds to leave an "Emily" in Lesvos. In this emergency situation anything that could help decreasing the number of deaths is fundamental, and it is promising that we are now seeking help in technology.