Innovation – a path to safe swimming

Safety measures, especially in life and death situations, are never enough. Life is priceless, and at any cost should be protected. I strongly believe we, as a society, can and should take all possible steps to save lives.

The statistics of swimming related accidents are staggering. Even if these incidents do not lead to the loss of life, they can result in irreversible physical injuries, mental disorders, neurological disorders, and a life long fear of water. It is even more astonishing how many of the victims are trained swimmers and many of these accidents happen under the ‘watchful eyes’ of guards and other adults. The recent death of a Dartmouth College swimmer in Florida was such a tragedy.

There are organizations around the globe that are invested in water safety. One such organization is the American Red Cross. I would recommend to the readers to visit the Red Cross’s site for well organized swim safety tips, and a free mobile app with safety tips and swim lesson. However, safety tips and lessons on mobile app do not do any good unless one uses his or her judgment and does the right things.

Even though there are organizations like the Red Cross that are doing a commendable job, we still need more involvement at the local level. The local government, and non-profit and for-profit organizations need to get more involved so that ‘no child is left behind’.   We need investment and innovative thinking in water safety in order to enact safety policies and run safety programs. Recently, I published one such article – Yes, Add Swimming to the Public Elementary Schools.

Along with bringing changes to the policies and drawing attention to the safety tips and techniques, we should also pay attention to how we can utilize new and upcoming technology. In the recent past, there have been major technological advancements. Some such advancements are: lightweight and high-strength materials, precise fabrication techniques, miniaturized sensors, and wireless/mobile technologies. These advancements can be ‘assembled’ into safety devices and put to work.

Inflated armbands, ‘noodles’, and such have been there for a long time and they serve a good purpose for kids who are learning to swim; at the same time, they should not be mistaken as safety devices. Inflatable life vest have been used for a long time and have saved many lives. Life vest keeps one from drowning, but one would not wear them to swim. Right now, I am talking about devices that you can wear and effectively swim. There are some cool wearables (but, still with limited capabilities) now available in the market. These devices broadly have two features: mechanism to inflate a ‘balloon’ that prevents one from drowning; and embedded sensors to trigger alarms or send signals to a mobile or remote device.   I will come back at a later time to discuss these devices in more detail (stay tuned!).

An increase in general awareness will bring the best out of the great minds. A little support by the academic and research institutions, and by the for-profit organizations to establish ‘incubators’ and nurture these innovators will go a long way.

Promote innovation with respect to policies as well as application of smart technologies.

– Meghna Sil


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