BELMAR, NJ — Belmar’s 10th Avenue beach became a proving ground yesterday for a new lifesaving tool — a drone.
And a handful of Belmar’s lifeguards got their chance to pilot the high-technology device during a hands-on demonstration, led by Hugh Roarty of Rutgers University's Center of Ocean Observing Leadership. The award-winning ocean engineer developed the prototype that integrates camera-carrying drones into lifesaving operations.
Here is how the drone-assisted rescue system works. When a swimmer is spotted in distress, a lifeguard sends a drone into action, carrying a camera and tube-like device containing an inflatable life vest. Once the drone reaches the swimmer, the device is dropped and the vest inflates upon hitting the water. The swimmer is then able to use the vest to keep afloat, as lifeguards swim out for the rescue.
“It’s a new approach that is worth exploring,” said Belmar lifeguard director Eric Kerecman, who also participated in the demonstration, serving as a “distressed swimmer” during one test flight of the drone.
Although the tube was dropped about 25 feet from his spot in the ocean, Kerecman was impressed with “the short learning curve” in how quickly the participating lifeguards were able to successfully operate the device in reaching its target.
Even more impressive was the lightning speed at which the drone flew from the beach to its destination far out in the surf — clocked at 30 to 45 seconds. All agreed that would give the lifeguards a beneficial jumpstart in any rescue.
While Roarty is still fine-tuning the prototype for viability in the marketplace, he is at the forefront of the fledgling technology. In fact, the world’s first official rescue mission with a drone reportedly occurred in Australia in January when lifeguards deployed the lifesaving device to save two boys from the rough surf.
Belmar Councilman Mark Levis, a marine engineer himself, arranged for Roarty’s visit as a way to “test the waters” literally of the system with the Belmar beach patrol. While the borough’s consideration of such a system is in the early stages, the investment would be minimal in terms of money, but could be invaluable if it assists in saving lives, Levis said.
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