While lifeguards are essential to maintaining safety at the swimming pools, they cannot always see everything going on and all pool operators cannot pay salary for them. That’s where a new swimmer-saving underwater robot was designed to come in.
The current prototype is being developed by a team of engineers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Optronics, Germany’s Image Exploitation and Systems Technology, who previously gave us the DEDAVE underwater vehicle. They are working with colleagues from Wasserrettungsdienst Halle eV, a water rescue service for the German city of Halle.
The plans call for robots to spend most of their time sitting in an underwater dock, on the bottom of a pool. Thus, the camera mounted on the ceiling will track the movements and position of the swimmers. When an artificial intelligence-based computer system detects one of those people showing signs of drowning, it sends their location to the robot.
The bot responds by moving to those coordinates, using the onboard cameras to determine the person’s visual position. It then protrudes from below them, bringing them up to a flat surface like its stretcher. In the event of a swimmer not responding, a tightening mechanism will hold their body on top of the robot, keeping it from slipping off.
Robots can also be used in lakes, although in that case the overhead cameras would be mounted on balloons or drones. Also, since the water is not as clear as the swimming pool, the robot will approach swimmers by using sound sensors instead of the onboard camera.
In tests carried out at Lake Hufeisensee by Halle, the robot successfully located an 80 kg (176 lb) dummy submerged at a depth of 3 meters (9.8 ft). The robot then fixed it on top, floated up, then transported the mannequin 40 meters (131 ft) off the shore – all in about two minutes.
While the current version of the robot is built on the frame of a pre-existing underwater vehicle, plans call for a model built for future purposes to be smaller, lighter, and cheaper. . It should also be more streamlined, as its body will be modeled in a manta ray pattern.
And this isn’t the first robot rescuer we’ve seen. EMILY, U-Safe and Dolphin 1 gears move across the surface to rescue troubled swimmers – while the Auxdron and Pars drones drop the floats to them from the air – although they are all controlled remotely in real time by on-shore operators.
In addition, the Sightbit system uses a camera placed along the coast to monitor swimmers, summoning a rescue team when it detects an incident.