There's plenty to be excited about when it comes to the possibilities of drones, but two Australian beachgoers have learnt first-hand how they can have a big impact today. After being swept away by the surf off the coast of New South Wales, the two found themselves safely back on shore after a local lifeguard used a drone to deliver them a lifesaving flotation device.

Lifeguards in the Australian state of New South Wales have been testing out a new lifesaving drone known as the Westpac Little Ripper for the last couple of years, and they have high hopes for it. The aircraft is fitted with cameras and pattern-recognition software that might one day allow it to spot sharks and warn nearby swimmers, though that capability remains a work in progress.

In the meantime, local lifesavers have been training with the drones to test their ability to monitor the coastline and drop off emergency items like inflatable devices and whistles. They were doing just that when they received a call concerning two struggling swimmers who had been washed out to sea. Using the camera aboard the drone (which was already in the air at the time), lifeguard supervisor Jai Sheridan was able to pinpoint the swimmers, position the drone above them and quickly deploy a flotation device.

"I was able to launch it, fly it to the location, and drop the pod all in about one to two minutes," he told The Sydney Morning Herald. "On a normal day that would have taken our lifeguards a few minutes longer to reach the members of the public."

With the flotation device in hand, the two were able to make their way back to shore, where lifeguards checked over them and reported only signs of fatigue. This incredible rescue marks a world-first for drone technology, and is a great demonstration of their potential not just for beach safety but all kinds of emergency response scenarios, be they earthquakes, hurricanes or anywhere with people in urgent need of help.

You can see it all play out from the drone's perspective in the video below.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, Westpac Little Ripper

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