Australia works to prevent beach drownings through Wi-Fi

The free 'Life-Fi' service will be used to encourage beachgoers to stay between the flags, and to push safety alerts to their phones describing beach conditions in seven different languages.

Australia's beach lifeguards will be trialling the use of unlimited free Wi-Fi to push safety alerts in an effort to prevent tourists from drowning.

The initiative will be tested at 10 yet-to-be-named beaches in Queensland, although it will eventually be used at patrolled beaches statewide.

"Surf Life Saving Queensland (SLSQ) has worked with Actify Live and Romeo to develop mobile Wi-Fi technology," SLSQ said on Friday.

"The new technology, called Life-Fi, will allow beachgoers to access unlimited free Wi-Fi between the flags along with a live feed of multilingual information."

The alerts will be delivered in seven languages -- English, Arabic, Hindi, simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, Japanese, and Thai, with more to be added later -- to the smartphones of beach visitors, and will cover beach conditions, closures, and safe swimming tips.

Containing the free Wi-Fi zone to between the red and yellow flags is also aimed at encouraging swimmers to stay in the safe swimming area, with over 80 percent of the last 5,000 rescues since January 2017 having been performed outside the flags.

The language barrier between surf life savers and beachgoers has been an issue in the past, SLSQ said; over the last 10 years, 75 people have drowned on Queensland beaches, 31 of which were foreign tourists or recent migrants.

"It's not uncommon to see international beachgoers who don't speak English and who don't have a lot of experience in the surf, and it can be a really challenging situation for our lifesavers and lifeguards," SLSQ CEO John Brennan said.

"Even trying to communicate simple messages such as 'swim between the flags' or 'watch out for that rip' can be almost impossible at times when you don't speak the same language.

"We can use Life-Fi to educate and engage with all beachgoers, be it international or domestic, and that could literally mean the difference between a drowning and a positive outcome in the right circumstances."

SLSQ said the initiative was funded via the Queensland Department of Innovation and Tourism Industry Development.

With beach safety an ongoing issue in Australia, technology is increasingly being trialled, with Telstra earlier this year showcasing 5G use cases including the Westpac-funded Little Ripper drone that has been involved in a real rescue.

The Little Ripper drones are used for spotting sharks in real time through an artificial intelligence (AI) system, as well as for dropping rescue pods down to anyone struggling in the waters. The pods include a flotation device that can support up to four people, an automatic light, high-visibility retro-reflective tape, a sea anchor, and a shark shield.

Rival telco Optus two years ago also launched "Clever Buoy", a system that combines sonar, satellite, and mobile networks to bring greater water safety through shark detection, in partnership with Google.

The Clever Buoy is equipped with a rechargeable battery powering the sonar below, as well as a microprocessor to analyse the sonar data. The sonar detects "shark-like objects" in the water nearby, according to Optus.

Once a shark is detected, the buoy sends a signal via its onboard two-way Inmarsat IsatData Pro satellite service over a secure channel through the Optus network.

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