Mar. 13, 2015 | By Alec

In a few years’ time, drones will become an indispensable part of society, just as smartphones can no longer be erased from public life. Largely thanks to their speed, maneuverability and affordability, they are being increasingly used for everything from delivering groceries to fighting our wars. It’s hardly surprising, then, that drones are also being increasingly used for that task in which speed and maneuverability is absolutely crucial: saving lives. Remember the 3D printed ambulance drone that transports defibrillators through traffic?

And now a brand-new 3D printing project is called Project Ryptide is seeking to combine 3D printing technology and drones to tackle a very dangerous problem: saving drowning people from heavy currents and riptides. Both regular swimmers and life guards will know that dangerous currents can steal lives away in a moment’s notice. Riptides can even hide under seemingly calm waters, pulling unknowing swimmers to their deaths in a matter of seconds. Currently, only trained lifeguards can save swimmers caught in a riptide, but those guards put themselves at enormous risk whenever they try.

And that is exactly where Project Ryptide comes in. While dependent on drone technology, the Ryptide is actually a very cleverly designed 3D printed drone accessory that can be used to deliver inflating life preservers to troubled swimmers in a matter of seconds. Held in a 3D printed carrying case, these life preservers can save swimmers without endangering the lives of others. Through the simple press of a button, the packed preserver is released from its 3D printed carrying case, while it starts inflating once its hits the water. A clever salt tablet is constantly prohibiting that, but dissolves on impact with the ways. Within just three seconds, the swimmer can clutch on to the inflated preserver.

A test run of the Ryptide at sea.

It’s a very clever and inspiring project that combines the best of drone technology, 3D printing and life guard practices, and it should really be implemented on every beach on the planet. Hopefully, a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign can make that a reality, though it is still in its prototyping stage for now. Project Ryptide has been developed by part-time teacher Bill Piedra and some of his students from the King Low Heywood Thomas (KLHT) school in Stamford, Connecticut. It has been under development for just over a year now.

As Piedra told reporters, Ryptide enables everyone to be a lifeguard. ‘We had the casual user in mind when we designed the basic model; someone that might take their drone to the beach, boating, a lake, or even ice skating,’ he says. ‘It could be useful in the case of someone falling through the ice while skating, for example.’ Other envisioned applications are for boating, diving, (ice) fishing, surfing and of course for Police and Fire Departments, and the Ryptide has already been approved by SOLAS (the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea), while the United States Coast Guard Academy (USCGA) is currently performing tests.

While Piedra is the project leader, he has been extensively working with a group of his students during development. ‘We were fascinated by discovering that more than one million small drones are in use around the world today, and their primary application is aerial photography,’ they revealed on Kickstarter. ‘Mr. Piedra then challenged us to think of other applications for this emerging technology. Then the question was asked; if drones can carry cameras at the beach why can’t they carry a life preserver?   As we began to tinker and experiment, Project Ryptide was born.’

Together they have developed a very clever system that can be added to just about every type of drone, as it weighs less than a typical GoPro camera. Their ‘Automatically Inflating Life Preserver’ is capable of proving 18KG of buoyancy and can even be just over and over again through a clever recharge system. It has also been designed to ensure that anyone can use it. ‘Anyone can learn how to use Project Ryptide with just a few minutes practice. In fact we are including dummy payload so users can practice using the system with a floating payload instead of the inflating ring,’ they write.

But of course the entire concept stands and falls by its 3D printed mounting system. The basic Ryptide model can be attached to the ever-popular DJI Phantom drone, and consists of a 3D printed frame that can be attached in a matter of minutes. An Arduino Pro microcontroller and radio channel is used for the 4-ring drop mechanism. Alternatively, a kit of 3D printable STIL files will be provided for other drones, all of which can be modified for whatever specific purpose you have in mind.

But perhaps most importantly for drone owners everywhere, Ryptide has also been designed to save the drones itself. ‘Flying a drone over water can be a risky and scary proposition. A water landing can result in the loss of an entire system costing thousands of dollars, but the Ryptide system can be affixed to most larger drones to keep them afloat in the event of an "unscheduled water landing,’ the team reveals.

In short, this project is taking life preservers into the 21st century through a clever mix of drone technology and 3D printing. Really the only problem is that it hasn’t ready for deployment yet, as crowdfunding success is necessary to take the model into production. Through their Kickstarter campaign, that is running until 16 April 2015, the team hopes to raise at least $10,000, with at least another $8,500 necessary at the time of writing. An early bird pledge of $99 is enough to get a Ryptide kit that fits on a DJI Phantom drone, while $179 is enough for a hackable kit to fit to your drone of choice. Go here for more information.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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Corey Warren wrote at 3/13/2015 7:49:02 PM:

Build an even bigger drone, lower a rope and tow people to safety.

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