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The researchers carried out open-water testing with an 80-kilogram dummy, deposited at a depth of three meters. | Picture by special arrangement.  

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Drowning is the third main reason for accidental injury-related death globally, accounting for 7% of all injury-related fatalities, according to the World Health Organisation. An estimated 3,20, 000 people globally died in 2016 due to drowning.

An autonomous underwater robot, developed by a team of researchers at Fraunhofer Institute for Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation (IOSB), is now ready for the task of rescuing drowning persons.

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In a swimming pool environment, when the aquatic robot receives a drowning person’s location from surveillance cameras fixed near the pool, it comes out of its docking station on the pool’s floor to rescue the individual.

The robot is equipped with batteries, motor, cameras, optical and navigational sensors, and a mechanism to secure a drowning person’s body. Upon reaching the destination, it locates the person and carries them to the surface.

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The aquatic vehicle can also rescue people in lakes when equipped with acoustic sensors instead of optical ones to overcome restricted visibility. Sound wave echoes can be used to determine people’s positions and orientation so precisely that the robot can autonomously reach their location and pick them up, Fraunhofer IOSB explained in a release.

The researchers carried out open-water testing with an 80-kilogram dummy, deposited at a depth of three meters. According to the institute, the robot picked it up, secured it in place, brought it to the surface within a second, and carried it via the shortest route to shore.

When the robot is informed of an emergency, a signal alerts a rescue team immediately.

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The current prototype is 90 cm long, 50 cm high, and 50 cm wide, the team plans to further reduce the size of the rescue system and build different versions. They have also filed a patent for the aquatic robot.

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