In an attempt to protect the roughly 2,000 Syrian refugees that arrive on the Greek island of Lesvos every day, the Lesvos Coast Guard has invited Texas A&M University’s Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue to develop the Center’s robot, EMILY: the Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard, as a pilot project. While EMILY has been tested to pluck stray swimmers out of the water, it has never been tested as a lifesaving device on the scale of the European refugee crisis. As the Syrian civil war rages on, more and more citizens are displaced by the violence, streaming across the borders into neighboring countries. Rather than make their way on foot, many take a shortcut across the Mediterranean Sea to Greece. Traveling in rickety boats without life vests, to date more than 2,600 Syrian refugees have died at sea.
EMILY is a four foot long buoy, controlled remotely by a human operator. The robot’s tether cable can extend up to 2,000 feet, so the operator can guide the robot to struggling swimmers and then reel them in to safety. EMILY works in conjunction with several Fotokites: tethered, camera-equipped quadcopter drones that feed visuals to the operator from 30 feet above the water. Once the operator guides EMILY to a refugee at sea, the robot and the person holding on are reeled in manually, so no propulsion power is needed.
The Texas A&M team, the Lesvos Coast Guard, and more than 80 NGOs working in the region all have high hopes that EMILY will be able to keep refugees safe on the dangerous crossing from Syria.