TWO young scientists hope to take technology developed for war and use it to save lives on Eurobodalla beaches.
The University of Wollongong’s Leo Stevens and Nicholas Roach have developed the Guardian Drone, which remotely and quickly drops a rescue tube to a stranded swimmer.
An operator on the beach guides the drone with a computer and hand-held controller.
The US Army developed drones to drop explosives in war zones, but the PhD students believe similar technology could save swimmers and lifesavers in the worst conditions.
Their idea has won quick support from Batemans Bay Surf Life Saving Club president Tracy Innes, who knows too well the risks to her crews in rough seas.
Mr Stevens, a member of Coalcliff Surf Life Saving Club in the Illawarra for 10 years, said he had often wished for a device that could be safely and quickly keep a distressed swimmer afloat.
“I have seen situations where the swell is quite large and somebody might be in distress out the back,” he said.
“It is dangerous even for experienced swimmers like lifesavers to go out and rescue them and it can be time consuming in a big swell.
“I thought it would be really good if there was some way to deliver something for them hang onto, quickly and safely.
“You know then they have enough time above water for you to perform a rescue more safely.”
Mr Stevens pitched his idea at an open competition forum on campus and was delighted when fellow student Nicholas Roach came forward with drone experience.
“He was working with drones through his media company, which does aerial photography and said ‘I can help’,” Mr Stevens said.
They had 10 weeks to build a prototype and found themselves $2000 richer, after being named the winners.
Mr Stevens said lifesavers were often exposed to danger.
“I have had to go out in surf that is uncomfortably large and have been fortunate nothing has gone wrong,” he said.
“Danger could be avoided with a device like this.
“Its main function is to give the patient time, to get a float to them quickly, so they have 15 minutes rather than one minute.
“It gives the lifesavers time to prepare for a proper rescue, to pull a jet ski from an adjacent beach, or call a helicopter.
“All these tools might take ten minutes to arrive, which might be too late under other circumstances.”
Watching rough seas at Malua Bay recently, Ms Innes welcomed the idea.
“It is awesome,” she said.
She said lifesavers had the right to say no in dangerous conditions, but that went against the grain.
“We could not watch someone drown,” she said.
“As much as it would scare the bejeezus out of me, I would go in.
“Would I come back? Possibly, but not definitely.
“While we were trying to get out there, you could take the drone over and drop a tube to help them stay afloat.”
As her club’s chief training officer, Ms Innes often stressed to recruits that keeping someone afloat was most of the battle.
“You can hang out the back and we can get the helicopter to come and pick you up,” she said.
She said the drone would help when the surf was too huge for crews to enter from the beach.
“I have had situations here where it is so big we cannot get out and I have gone along the back of the rocks, jumped in, swam across, hung out there and dragged a person in over the rocks,” she said.
Ms Innes said the drone could also help at unpatrolled beaches.
Mr Stevens said a similar drone could cost between $5000 and $10,000, but that compared favourably to a $40,000 jet ski.