Tony Mulligan, left, developer of EMILY, a robotic device for water rescues; Robin Murphy, director of the Texas A&M center and Capt. John Sims, Rural/Metro Fire Department, are among those on a humanitarian effort in Greece.

Two Tucson-area men, along with a robotic device made in the Tucson area that specialize in water rescues, are working with Greek officials to try to reduce the number of drownings of fleeing refugees off the country’s coast.

The robotic devices — known as EMILY — are manufactured at Hydronalix, a company in Sahuarita. EMILY stands for Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard.

Capt. John Sims of Rural/Metro Fire Department, who has a background in swift-water rescue and is a consultant on EMILY, and the robot’s co-creator Anthony Mulligan went to Greece recently to work with rescue organizations. They are expected to return home this week.

They are among a larger team from the Center for Robot-Assisted Search & Rescue at Texas A&M that are involved in the life-saving project in Greece.

The center invited Sims, Mulligan and EMILY, a remote-controlled robot lifeguard, to aid Greece’s Hellenic Coast Guard in rescue operations on the island of Lesvos. Hundreds of refugees fleeing violence in Syria and Iraq have drowned while traveling in small boats in waters between Turkey and the coast of Greece, according to news reports. Many of the drownings have been young children.

On the center’s website, Director Robin Murphy said of their work with rescue workers, “It is an honor to think that we could provide them with useful tools to do their amazing and heartbreaking work.”

EMILY, which is 4 feet long and weighs 25 pounds, is propelled with a pump jet, said Bob Lautrup, executive vice president at Hydronalix. He and Mulligan invented EMILY.

Six people can hold on to the flotation device and when not using the pump jet, the device can be pulled to shore or to a rescue boat by a rope. EMILY has a camera that can send photos through a radio frequency, and it also carries a two-way radio. The remote-controlled device can reach speeds of up to 22 mph, Lautrup said.

Each EMILY unit costs $10,000, and is used by law enforcement, the Coast Guard, lifeguards and first-responders across the world, said Lautrup. The devices were tested by Rural/Metro crews for swift-water rescues in the Tucson area.

“This humanitarian mission EMILY is on in Greece is one of the biggest missions she has been used for,” said Lautrup. “It is an international effort to help rescue people and save lives.”

Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at or 573-4104.

Twitter: @cduartestar