Innovation & Swimming – be Navigated

IOLITE, a GPS based tracking device, gets it name from legendary Sunstones used by the Vikings for navigation. Rightfully so!

This is not the first time (or the last) you are hearing this – one of the challenges of open water swimming is to stay on course. A triathlete swimmer would appreciate anything that would take away the stress of staying on course and rather focus their energy on swimming.

IOLITE does just more than taking care of sighting and assists the swimmer with navigating along a straight line. It also comes with added features to help maintain a planned pace and assists in keeping stroke cadence. IOLITE also collects all the data from start to finish for later analysis.

IOLITE primarily comes as two components, GPS tracking unit and LED Display unit, housed in leak-proof casings and connected by a flexible and water-resistant cable. The LED Display is attached to lens of swimming goggle and the tracking device either can be attached to the goggle strap at the back or tucked under the skullcap. The tracking device provides real time feed to the LED Display so the swimmer can respond accordingly.

IOLITE primarily comes as two components, GPS tracking unit and LED Display unit, housed in leak-proof casing and connected by a flexible and water-resistant cable. The LED Display is attached to lens of swimming goggle and the tracking device either can be attached to the goggle strap at the back or tucked under the skullcap. The tracking device provides real time feed to the LED Display so the swimmer can respond accordingly.

iolite-GPS Unit

iolite-swimmer(Photo Source – swimiolite.com)

How does it work? The navigation path can be pre-plotted using the software (that comes with the product) OR allow the GPS to determine ‘line of swimming’ within few feet of swimming. It is also relatively easy to reset the direction mid-course. Any deviation from the path is indicated by a set of LED lights on the display.

Even though IOLITE is a great innovation, to me, it looked like a range of devices packaged into one. Sometimes additional features can be a distraction and if that is the case, the users will turn off those features. The product should not lose its primary purpose – keep the swimmer on course. Do we really need a device to help triathlete swimmers to maintain rhythm of their strokes?

As I had indicated in another article, discussions will continue around fairness of using such devices in competitive swimming. In parallel, innovation should continue to bring better products to keep the swimmers safe and contribute towards better performance.

-Meghna Sil

Swim Lessons in Minnesota Public School Curriculum – an update

I was very excited about a new bill that was passed last year by the Minnesota State Legislation to conduct a feasibility study in order to make swimming instructions available in public school for children at an early age. Please refer to an earlier article – Yes, Add Swim Lessons to Public Elementary School Curriculum. As required by the legislation, the state education commissioner published a report in early February, 2016.

mn state

My earlier excitement was quickly dampened after reading the report. The report essentially brought forth various costs that would be incurred for adding swimming lesson in the school curriculum. In my humble opinion, focus should have been more on determining various avenues to cover these costs, rather cost avoidance.

The study workgroup included a wide range of representatives – Minnesota Department of Health and Education, teachers and school administrators, non-profit fitness and recreational organizations, public parks and recreation departments and other stakeholders with interest in swimming. Sadly, missing from this group were corporate leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs.

As reported, for the state to mandate swimming instructions, it would require state-adopted learning outcomes that do not exist today for physical education, and swimming in particular. This would require for the state to establish and monitor the policies. Additionally, the state would need to set guidelines for schools and professional development plans both for schools and teachers.

As far as estimation of the cost is concerned, the report indicates over 200 school districts do not have access to any school-operated pool in the district. Setting up one pool per district would cost around $550M to construct plus on-going recurring costs. Even though the report made reference to collaborative effort with some non-profit organization (e.g., local YMCAs, YWCAs, local clubs, etc.), there was no suggestion of looking into corporate sponsorships.

The report indicates the need for personnel development in the areas of lifeguard and swimming instructions training and certifications, expertise in emergency procedures, CPR, ED, etc., and employment of maintenance staff. Do I hear an Employment Opportunity here?

The report, in conclusion, recommends:

  • Incentivize school and community partnership – no specifics here?
  • Include instructions on drowning prevention via land-based instruction – learning swimming without getting into water?
  • Include outreach program to reach high-risk population – what about affordability and availability of pools and swim lessons?

I personally feel – the state legislators need to start engaging the entrepreneurs, innovators and corporate leaders; look into the various options of covering the cost, instead of avoiding the cost; consider other secondary benefits of incorporating swim lessons in the public school curriculum, e.g., employment, healthy students, etc.

As always, I am waiting to hear your opinions on this subject.

-Meghna Sil

Innovation & Swimming – Stay On Course

The title of this article could not have been any more apt. I am a big fan of any innovation that makes swimming safe and fun, and also ignites interest to learn and enjoy swimming. In one of my previous articles, I described my experience with open water swimming and the challenge I faced in trying to stay on course (the lane markers at the bottom are no more!). Of course, it’s a skill that you can learn and slowly master as you train in open waters.

Wouldn’t it be nice to offload the sighting and navigation while you are focused on competing in open water or just swimming for pleasure?  OnCourse Goggles does exactly that for you.

oncourse-goggles-detail

The ‘miniaturized’ device is encased in the frame of the goggles and consists of a high-precision magnetometer, a 3-axis accelerometer with tilt compensation, a micro-controller, a rechargeable battery, and a pair of feedback LED lamps, one on each eyecup. The device uses earth’s magnetic force to navigate.

OnCourse Goggles is very simple to use. Once you strap it,  all you need to do is baseline the course by looking at a landmark or buoy and click a button on its frame. Any deviation from the baseline will trigger the LED lamp to blink – deviation to the left will blink the lamp on the left and vise-versa. You can also easily re-baseline your direction in the midcourse simply by clicking the same button.


OnCourse Goggles has an intelligent and elegant design, and is easy to use.


I spoke to some open water swimmers that spanned the spectrum – recreation swimmers to triathlete swimmers- to get their opinion about OnCourse Goggles. I got mixed responses, but most of them agreed that the idea was quite innovative. Disagreement was mostly around fairness in using OnCourse Goggles for competitive sport, despite this being approved by USAT for use in sanctioned competitions. Some felt sighting and ability to navigate is a skill that is developed with practice and that skill should be a consideration in competitive open water swimming, and some even felt it could be a disadvantage to the swimmer who cannot afford it. To its defense, some argued that it is not any different from some triathletes using expensive wetsuit, skullcaps, bicycles and helmet.

While the debate on OnCourse Goggles continues, we also need to consider – this kind of innovative devices can actually ignite interest in many people to get into the open water and enjoy the swimming in open water. It’s very important to choose the marketing message very carefully.

Who says innovation cannot be disruptive? In fact, most of the time it is. That does not mean we need to disrupt innovation.

-Meghna Sil

Safety Wearables – Article 5

Continuing from the previous articles on swim safety wearables…

As I have said before, different technology enabled swim safety devices cannot necessarily prevent drowning; they can assist with early detection of a swimmer in distress and draw attention of otherwise distracted parents/guards. The technological advances have evolved over the years, but they still have a long way to go.

One of the recent innovations in drowning detection systems is SEAL System. It essentially creates a virtual wireless network between the SealBands (worn by swimmers), GuardBands (worn by lifeguards and/or parents), and a compact, portable, centralized monitoring Hub. One Hub can monitor dozens of SealBands.

When operational, each swimmer band continuously reports its status to the central hub and to the guard/parent bands using radio signals. The hub registers any interruption in signal and if the interruption is over a certain pre-determined time, it sets the alarm in the Hub, the particular SealBand and the GuardBands. The pre-determined time limit is set for each SealBand. When the SealBand is submerged in water, the radio signal to the hub is interrupted. The alarm is highly audible and visual, and it also makes the bands vibrate.

SealBand

One of the perceived downside of this system could be – it does not provide the location of the swimmer in distress. However, once the alarm is triggered the band provides a visual ‘glow’ to easily locate the distressed swimmer. But, it may not be easy in the open turbulent waters.

This drowning detection system runs on rechargeable batteries. You don’t have to throw away the system (or it’s components) once it runs out of battery – that’s good!

As an added safety feature, the alarm goes off when the SealBand is unclasped in the water. And just based on how the system works, the alarm also goes off when a SealBand gets out of range (since the hub would not get any signal) – this can serve to alert the parents when a child wanders away.

As always, ensure the system is in operating condition before you let you child wear the band and jump in the water.


Around water bodies, any time you can’t find your child, it’s best to begin your search in the water before anywhere else.


Please stay tuned for more upcoming interesting articles on safety wearables.

-Meghna Sil