Wanted Life Saving Entrepreneurs!

This past summer, I noticed a trend across the nation.  A major shortage of qualified lifeguards at pools, beaches, and even water parks.  This shortage has led to delayed openings and shortened hours in many pools, closures of public beaches, and more ‘swim at your own risk’ signs across the nation.  On further research, I found that this shortage has been an ongoing epidemic for past few years.

Shortage of qualified lifeguards puts the lives of swimmers at risk.  Multiple reasons are cited for this shortage – relatively low pay, inability to take smart phones to work, summer internships, and rigorous certification process, among many other reasons.   Many efforts have been exercised to reduce this shortage of lifeguards – improved marketing, encouraging retirees, paying for certification, getting foreign students on temporary visa, and many more, but nothing seems to have solved the problem.

As I have always believed, with every challenge comes new opportunities.  It is time to tap in to new technology of robots and drones to help meet this shortage.  By any means, I am not advocating replacement of lifeguards with technology but rather enable them to do more with less.  My intention is to explore opportunities to make the lifeguards more effective by augmenting them with gadgets that enable watch over a wide area and issue timely alerts for swimmer distress.  Make swimming safe!

Some of the innovative minds are already upping their games.  For instance, Microdrones recently demonstrated the ability to rescue a swimmer in distress and Poolview built an artificial vision system to detect drowning accidents in pools.  Considering the direction in which the technology and our society is heading, we might have better luck in finding qualified drone pilots and lifeguard who would prefer an artificial vision system along with the whistle.   It is time to encourage and support Life Saving Entrepreneurs!

– Meghna Sil

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Innovation & Swimming – Helping Resurface

During the summer of 2015, circumstances brought four like-minded high schoolers with similar interests.  The problem in front of us was – why drowning even among professional triathletes was high and what can be done?

Late night brainstorming and long hours in the labs resulted in a successful and working prototype of an inflatable device that can be worn as an armband and can be easily inflated on-demand by pull of a string. The device is capable of taking a swimmer up to 350 lbs. to safety when the disaster strikes.  ReSurface was born!

– Meghna Sil

Innovation & Swimming – a Coach’s Aide

Undoubtedly, there have been very many technological innovations in the arena of athletics and sports, ranging from real-time feedback on the performance to collection of voluminous data for post analysis. But then, there aren’t many to aid the swimming coaches in the pool. In swimming, like many other sports, coaches still largely depend on stopwatch, whistle, notepad and pencils, and if lucky enough, a few assistant coaches.

Which coach wouldn’t dream of shaving some time off from focusing on the stopwatch and instead concentrate on swimming techniques and stroke efficiency? All the coach has to do is have the swimmers wear this innovative device called TritonWear at the back of their head (attached to the goggle strap or tucked under the swim cap) and turn it on; and a tablet either running on iOS or Android to track and view the swimmer’s performance.

TritonWear’s design is very well thought out with various sensors necessary to collect, store and transmit performance metrics. The device includes a Micro USB port for charging, is water resistance up to a depth of 3 m (~10 ft.) and use Bluetooth technology to connect with iOS and Android devices.

tritonwear-pic

(Photo Source: Tritonwear.com)

The device collects and transmits real time data for over 15 different performance metrics that determines the speed and stroke efficiency. Some of the key metrics are – stroke count, stroke rate, time underwater, turn time, etc. When these metrics are fed real time to the tablet, the coach does not have to keep looking at the stopwatch and calling out to the swimmers. There is more time to focus on other important aspects of coaching. The app on the tablet also provides a very efficient interface for the coach to monitor the performance of multiple swimmers at the same time.

The data collected while the swimmer is in the water can also be used for running analytics that can provide much more insight than what the coach or the swimmer can imagine. The data can reveal a wealth of information that can be used for planning future training and visualize various trends with the current training.


TritonWear does not replace but rather empowers the coach by providing actionable intelligence to help target specific performance improvements.


Coaches can now put technology and data to work! I would highly recommend TritonWear to the coaches.

– Meghna Sil

Innovation & Swimming – be Coached

Wouldn’t it be nice to have your coach available 24X7, swimming next to you, providing instantaneous feedback and correcting your strokes? How cool would that be!

A group of innovators in France conceived the idea and developed a ‘personal coach’ called Swimbot.  Swimbot is a small device that has all the necessary sensors and microprocessor to help the swimmer improve their swimming by providing constant feedback during swimming via a set of bone conduction earphones.  All the components including lithium battery is compactly packed inside the device which can be tucked in behind the head under the swim cap. Very elegantly designed!

swimbot-swimcapswimbot-console(Photo Source – swimbot.net)

Even before the swimmer gets into the water, she can put the ‘personal coach’ to work. Swimbot, which can be connected to smart phones using Bluetooth, comes with a set of tutorials on various techniques. A wide range of these tutorials is also available on YouTube – these tutorials are highly recommended. Very impressive content!

Before diving into the water, the swimmer can choose a training program on the touchscreen console of the device. These training programs focus on streamlining, propelling and breathing techniques. Once she starts swimming, a wide range of sensors housed in the device kick into action. These sensors continuously measure all the relevant parameters, determine any deviation from ideal, and instantaneously convey the feedback via a set of earphones; the swimmer can instantly adjust her strokes and make necessary corrections. Let us get real, she would not get this kind of instantaneous feedback from a real coach. Would she?

As she continues to swim, all the measures, including the performance measures, are stored in Swimbot that can be synched up with a smart phone for later analysis. The stored data is very valuable for the swimmer and her actual coach to synch up and jointly perform the analysis.


If popularized and delivers on its promises, Swimbot could be a game-changer.


Want to listen to music while swimming? Swimbot comes with an MP3 player too. Or, want to swim at a certain tempo? Swimbot can help with that too.

I can’t wait to hear what other swim enthusiasts think of this cutting edge device.

– Meghna Sil

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

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

Safety Wearables – Article 4

Continuing from the previous articles on swim safety wearables…

In my previous articles I spoke about two technology enabled safety devices, Safety Turtle Wristband and Aqua Alert Wristband. These devices are for non-swimmers and mainly meant to alert when they come in contact with water. For this and next upcoming articles, my focus will be on devices that are more advanced, configurable and also work as a safety device for swimmers, particularly, young swimmers and novice swimmers.

Coupe of points I would like to reiterate:

  1. Even though these safety devices provide an extra layer of protection, learning to swim and also swimming under watchful and vigilant eyes still remains the best defense against drowning.
  2. These devices DO NOT prevent drowning, they function only as alerts and the rescue personnel still need to bring the swimmer to safety.

iSwimBand is a simple band that can be worn as a headband or wristband or strapped to the goggle and is useful for both non-swimmers and swimmers. This band uses Blue Tooth technology to communicate with smart phone running either on iOS or Android via a mobile app. The band sends a signal to the smart phone when the swimmer is submerged for more than a pre-set value or a non-swimmer enters the water. The device has a limited range of 30 meters of direct line of sight. Up to 8 iSwimBands can be linked to one device.   The device runs on a non-replaceable battery – some users might see that as a limitation even though the manufacturer claims the battery can run for 100 hours. The device goes to sleep mode after 10 minutes of inactivity. In my opinion, having an indicator to display the remaining battery life could have been a nice feature.

DSC_0877

A device is good as long as it works when the need arises. As much as we desire, there is no 100% guarantee that these devices will deploy when there is a true emergency. The safest bet is to test the devices from time to time to ensure performance, particularly, before getting into the water. Also, if the device relies on another device or mobile app, please ensure those devices and apps are up and running too.


Always ensure the device you are wearing is in working condition before plunging into the water.


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

-Meghna Sil

Safety Wearables – Article 3

As I had mentioned in some of my previous articles, recent trends do indicate many consumers turning towards technology to add an extra layer of protection against drowning. The focus has mostly been on children and non-swimmers, and rightfully so. Children, novice-swimmers, and non-swimmers are more vulnerable and have a greater threat of drowning. That being said, even swimmers and professionals are susceptible to drowning.


Drowning of a child can happen in 2 seconds in 2 inches of water.


Even though safety devices provides an extra layer of protection, learning to swim and swimming under watchful and vigilant eyes still remains the best defense against drowning.

Supplementing supervision with safety devices is a great idea. Some products that come to my mind right away are, Safety Turtle Wristband, iSwimBand, My Buddy Tags, Aqua Alerts Water Activated Wristband, and SEAL Systems. These wearables may have different underlying technologies, but they all either activate alarms and/or send alerts when the device either comes in contact with water or is submerged in water over a preset time. These devices DO NOT prevent drowning; the responsibility still falls on the person watching the swimmer.

Safety Turtle Wristband is a simple wristband which debuted in 1999. This is primarily for non-swimmers (including pets) who are not supposed to be submerged in water. As soon as the wristband, hooked remotely to a base station, becomes wet it activates a high decibel alarm (via radio signals) in the base station. Some of notable features of this device are – it is highly portable; easy to setup and operate; multiple wristbands can be ‘hooked’ to one base station; each wristband comes with a lock/key so the kids cannot take them off; reasonably good battery life of 3-4 years; and normally, it doesn’t send false signals on water splashes and spilled drinks.   The range is limited to 60-70 meters direct line of sight and can be impacted by trees and walls.

Safety Turtle2

Safety Turtle

Safety Turtle Wristband is not a floatation device and does not guarantee the safety of your child, and one still needs to respond to the alarm. Be always aware of the whereabouts of your child whether it is near the bathtub at home or around the neighbor’s swimming pool or on a beach.

Aqua Alert – Water Activated Wristband is an all-electronic band with a simple design that is easy to put on and off. This wristband sounds a high decibel (110 db) alarm when it comes in contact with water. The alarm can be heard up to 150 feet. Some of the features that I liked are – a very simple design and operating mechanism; comes with a lock/key so that kids cannot take it off; and the activated band can easily disengaged just by shaking it. Best of all, the company donates part of the sales proceeding to Justin’s Club, a non-profit organization that cares about prevention of childhood drowning – a noble cause!

aqua alert2

Aqua Alert

Like Safety Turtle Wristband, Aqua Alert Wristband is not a floatation device. Be extra alert if you are in a noisy place, because the surrounding noises can ‘drown’ the sound of the alarm.


When a child is near water, there is no substitution to parental vigilance and supervision.


Please stay tuned for more upcoming articles on safety wearables.

-Meghna Sil

Safety Wearables – Article 2

As I had indicated in one of my previous posts, many swimmers do not desire a conventional life vest while swimming. Moreover, life vests are not permitted in competitive sport. How about a way to ‘tuck’ the life jacket away to minimize interference with your swimming?  SwimIT does exactly that for you. Even though this personal floatation device (PFD) was conceived in 2012 to provide security to the triathlon swimmers, it can serve a purpose in other open water (and indoor pool) sports and activities.

SwimIT primarily consists of a life jacket and a CO2 cartridge tucked in a ‘pouch’ that inflates with the pull of a tab.   To better serve its purpose, the life jacket is tethered to the pouch with a 5 ft. chord and the pouch is strapped to the upper leg.

Some might argue about SwimIT’s size, but its simple and ingenious design lends itself to the ease of repacking of the life jacket and replacement of the CO2 cartridge. Allowing the non-propriety cartridges reduces the dependency on one source (in this case, manufacturer of SwimIT).   Once the life jacket is deployed, a swimmer can strap it around his or her neck and easily swim to the shore.   SwimIT is legal for most of the competitive swim races, including Triathlons and Ironman races. Of course, if deployed during the race, one would be disqualified. In my opinion, it is an easy choice between being disqualified or drowned. What would you choose?

During the swim portion of the triathlon, a number of swimmers have admitted to experiencing panic. Crowded waters, water current, and the adrenaline rush (and sometimes cold temperature) do not help either. Panic attacks can lead to undesired consequences. Having a PFD like SwimIT allows you to focus on the race and a peace of mind that security is within your arms reach.

If I were to use SwimIT, I would:

  • Ensure the ‘pouch’ and the straps fit well
  • Ensure the tab to inflate the life jack is easily reachable
  • Practice inflating the life jacket under different conditions until I feel comfortable
  • Learn to fold and pack the life jacket in the pouch and replace the CO2 cartridge
  • Advise the user to try it out under varying swim conditions, even though the company states that the device is protected against unintended deployment
  • Know the maintenance routine and ensure it always stays deployable

If I had to race in a triathlon or compete in any open water swimming, SwimIT would be my choice of safety device.


I like the simplicity of the design and ease of its use (and reuse).


– Meghna Sil