Beach lifeguards could soon gain critical minutes in dangerous ocean rescues thanks to a drone prototype developed by two University of Wollongong students.
The "Guardian Drone", invented by UOW PhD students Leo Stevens and Nicholas Roach, aims to provide a faster and safer way for lifesavers to help swimmers in distress.
The drone drops a flotation device to swimmers in danger, giving lifesavers extra time to perform rescues in high-risk situations.
Mr Stevens has been a volunteer lifesaver for more than a decade and knew there was a need for the device. He said: "It removes some of the danger from those riskier situations by giving lifeguards that little bit of extra time; you know you can keep someone afloat for 30 seconds, rather than just a few seconds, and that time can be really critical in a rescue situation."
The pair developed the device over 10 weeks as part of the Innovation Works! program, a collaboration between the university's Global Challenges Program and the Australian Institute for Innovation Materials.
A second team from the university used the project to develop a hydraulic crane, powered by artificial muscles, which the inventors hope to use as an educational tool for young students.
Both teams will now work with the university's iAccelerate initiative to further develop their projects.
Mr Stevens hopes the drone will one day be as commonplace as rescue boats on Australian beaches.
"I think it does have a place; it's very practical and could become just like any other piece of equipment," he said.
"It would be set up at the start of patrol, and lifeguards would be trained in how to use it if there is trouble."
The team plans to meet Surf Life Saving NSW representatives to discuss trialling the drone on Illawarra beaches.