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The The U.S. Coast Guard is devoted to helping boaters in distress and within this mission, one critical issue is finding people lost in the water. Time is crucial during a search and rescue mission, and while wearing a personal flotation device can help a missing person stay afloat, it does not increase the likelihood of being found at sea.
In September 2018, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Research and Development Center announced a $258,000 prize competition, called Ready for Rescue. The prize competition’s objective was to find technology that would help find people lost in the water. This competition was open to companies, universities, students, and citizen innovators developing technology (new or that could be adapted) for personal floatation devices (PFD) designed for recreational boater safety.
Better recreational mariner safety solutions would greatly improve the chances of a successful rescue. Technologies such as dyes, personal locators, and reflective materials in lifejackets/PFDs can help the U.S. Coast Guard better detect people and are shown to improve rescue rates; however, many boaters are not using these types of technology because of high cost, and lack of comfort and awareness.
The prize competition had innovators from a wide variety of fields— from maritime safety, recreational sports, consumer wearables, and smart technologies. The intent was to spark the design of new or improved technology that could help USCG Search and Rescue locate a person needing rescue in the water.
The prize competition had three phases with a total cash award of $258,000.
- Phase I: $25,000
- Phase II: $123,000
- Phase III: $110,000
Phases I and II
The Ready for Rescue Challenge solicited unique ideas from the general public to improve the detection of a person in open water. Over 100 entries were received with technologies ranging from visible flags, LED lights, light-reflective lenses, thermal heating devices to fluorescent gels.
On November 15, 2018 five Phase I winners were announced. The technology featured bold visions of boater safety solutions that had the potential to improve the chances of a successful rescue. The five Phase I finalists shared the first $25,000 prize pool and sixteen teams received honorable mentions.
Phase I prize finalists and honorable mentions were invited to participate in a “piranha pool” as part of Phase II and compete for an additional total prize pool of $123,000. Applicants pitched their concepts and technology to a group of judges and were awarded additional prize funding. The prize award was used to further develop concepts into a working prototype to be part of an experiment alongside USCG assets and judging in Phase III.
Phase III Winners
In Phase III, four finalists demonstrated their prototypes to see how they worked in daylight and at night during a search and rescue experiment with the USCG. The final four competed for an additional prize pool of $110,000.
The winning teams are:
- Lumenus (CA)
- Rescue Tracer (SC)
- SeeRescue Streamer (HI)
- Visual Extender (CT)
Because the teams brought unique prototypes and are working on obtaining patents to protect their intellectual property, the technical descriptions will not be shared. The final four are continuing to develop their technology, and S&T is working with some of the finalists to help them navigate the commercial market.