May 6, 2016

From whales, to silver foxes to refugees

Warren Duffie
Arlington, Va.

Meet EMILY the robotic lifeguard, officially known as the Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard. Created with support from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), EMILY is a remote-controlled buoy that recently was used to rescue nearly 300 Syrian migrants from drowning in the waters off the Greek island of Lesbos.

EMILY robot is a lifesaver

Meet EMILY the robotic lifeguard — officially known as the Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard — 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.

She’s tough — capable of punching through 30-foot waves and riptides or smashing into rocks and reefs. But she’s also tender, providing hope to those in peril.

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 — both at the Gaylord Convention Center in National Harbor, Md. EMILY’s demo schedule is as follows:
* May 15: Naval STEM Expo. 1:30 p.m.-4:40 p.m., South Dock of the Gaylord.
* May 16-May 18: 9:15 a.m.-11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.-3 p.m., South Dock of the Gaylord. There also will be a display at ONR’s booth at Sea-Air-Space.

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. SBIR provides the Navy with innovative advances in technology created by small firms, while STTR transitions products developed by both small businesses and research institutions to the Navy and Marine Corps.

EMILY’s 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.”

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.

“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 also worked with ONR’s SwampWorks program — which specializes in innovative, high-risk technologies — to develop components that went into both EMILY and the Mobile Gateway Buoy designed to support Navy mine countermeasure missions.

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.

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