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National Science Week: Rip-detection app to help reduce drownings

National Science Week: Rip-detection app to help reduce drownings

18 August 2023

Swimming in the ocean and having fun at the beach is an integral part of an Australian summer. However, the beach can also be an extremely hazardous place with an estimated 17,000 rip currents present on any given day.

Led by Dr Mitchell Harley from the University of New South Wales, ARC Linkage Project A smartphone rip-detection tool to improve rip current awareness aims to develop a smartphone rip-detection tool – which has been named RipEye – and an online education game to help reduce the number of Australians drowning in rips each year.

Working in partnership with Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) and with an interdisciplinary research team, this project is expected to enhance ability to identify rip currents, especially among high-risk demographics such as young males, culturally and linguistic diverse communities and rural visitors.  

Dr Harley said that by harnessing the power of Artificial Intelligence and everyday smartphones, this project will help to develop an algorithm that can detect rips from smartphone video footage taken at Australian beaches.

“Almost everyone these days has a smartphone in their pocket. With this new project we aim to supercharge your everyday smartphone into a new rip-current detection tool that is powered by Artificial Intelligence and specifically adapted for Australian beach conditions. The goal is enhancing the ability of beachgoers to spot rips – and hopefully reduce the number of swimmers unknowingly entering extremely hazardous conditions,” Dr Harley said.

With a particular focus on unpatrolled beaches, this new smartphone tool will be used by SLSA to provide training and education to help the community become more confident in identifying dangerous rip currents. The research outcomes of this project will support SLSA’s goal to achieve the Australian Water Safety Council’s commitment to reduce drowning deaths by 50% by 2030.

Shane Daw, General Manager of Coastal Safety at SLSA, said that it is important to empower beachgoers so that they can learn more and avoid potentially life-threatening rip currents.

“Rip currents are the number one beach hazard globally, responsible for one in five drowning deaths recorded along the Australian coast,” Daw said. 

“Fortunately, here in Australia we have an incredible integrated network of professional lifeguards and surf lifesavers who patrol popular beaches to keep beachgoers safe. However, beach patrols cannot be everywhere at all times, so we need to empower the community to learn more about rip currents and how to avoid them or escape from them safely.”

It is anticipated that RipEye will reduce the drowning burden on lifeguards, the Australian community and the economy – and ultimately make the beach a safer place for all Australians.

Dr Harley's project was funded through the ARC's Linkage Projects scheme, which supports projects that initiate or develop long term strategic research alliances to apply advanced knowledge to problems, acquire new knowledge and as a basis for securing commercial and other benefits of research.

For more information on the scheme, visit: Linkage Projects | Australian Research Council


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