There’s nothing like a relaxing swim on a sunny day at the sea or other bodies of water. But the pleasure ends in death from drowning for some 372,000 children, teens and adults every around the world in an average year. Spending time at the beach inevitably poses dangers, and in some situations, even the most skillful lifeguards ae unable to help.
A new artificial intelligence-based (AI) system, Sightbit, developed by graduates of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, helps lifeguards monitor thousands of swimmers and identify risky situations and other water hazards.
The World Health Organization reports that drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide, accounting for seven percent of all injury-related deaths. It is the leading cause of death in children between the ages of one and four and the second leading cause of death in children between the ages of five and nine.
While the risk of drowning can be reduced when lifeguards are nearby, they can only cover a certain expanse of beach at a time. Also, they need to rest from time to time. They can peer through binoculars and rely on their own vision only for so long, as they lose concentration after a few hours in the hot sun.
Sightbit uses artificial intelligence to help prevent drowning. The company’s team brings together expertise in machine learning, business management, and communications to develop drowning-prevention technology. Using the Sightbit system, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority is making Palmachim National Park in Rishon Lezion, with eight kilometers of coastline, the first “smart beach.”
Founded two years ago and headed by Netanel Eliav, Adam Bismut, Gadi Kovler and Minna Shezaf, Sightbit aims to provide first responders with information about potential drowning incidents. To understand what the system needed to be at the top of its game, the four-person team that founded Sightbit, interviewed dozens of lifeguards across North Carolina, California, Maryland and New York.
Sightbit is, in essence, an AI lifeguard and superior to humans who aren’t optimized for tracking hundreds of swimmers with or without binoculars,” said Eliav, the company’s chief executive officer. “In the case of drowning, every second is critical. Our system acts as an additional lifeguard by flagging threats to swimmers and providing an earlier warning so they can act more quickly and save lives.”
Sightbit’s vision-intelligence technology provides lifeguards with a current picture of swimmers’ whereabouts and real-time data on changing winds, waves, and hazards.
Through the use of a system of beach cameras, lifeguards get a panoramic view of the water, the beach and the swimmers, making it possible for the lifeguards to save drowning victims quickly or prevent dangerous situations from developing. The camera footage is displayed on a screen monitored by lifeguards and beach staff from above.
Behind the scenes, Sightbit algorithms analyze the footage in real-time. When the system detects a threat such as a rip current or a child alone in the water, it issues warnings on the screen or sounds alarms. The camera footage is sent to a processing unit, which may be on-site, or on the cloud, where the company’s software analyzes visuals on an individual feed.
The software makes it possible for the lifeguard to track a large number of swimmers and keep them safer, the company says. Sightbit also offers risk analytics that supplies data about locations where guards are most needed.
The system is very accurate in its current research and development stage. In a year or two, the company expects to be many times more effective than lifeguards at identifying drowning threats or other risks to swimmers. The company says its technology will not only help save lives but also money in beach equipment and manpower costs. There are no other functional AI-powered lifeguard, only other technologies for smaller-scale swimming pools.
Cactus Capital, the first student-run university venture capital firm in Israel and a venture arm of Ben-Gurion University, joined with Sightbit to provide an initial round of funding as well as a network of resources. Sightbit is funded by Cactus Capital, the student venture capital fund at
“We are very proud of the Sightbit team and delighted in the decision of the student-run Cactus Capital to support a promising technology venture that could actually help save lives,” added Dana Gavish-Fridman, head of entrepreneurship at the university. “The role of the 360 Entrepreneurship Center is to empower our students’ entrepreneurial skills and provide them with the best applied tools to prepare them for the job market.”
According to Amir Chen, director of Coasts in Nature and Parks Authority, Sightbit’s innovative solution is in line with the Nature and Parks Authority’s ambition to ensure as much as possible the safety of travelers and visitors to the national parks and reserves using advanced and innovative technologies, among other things at the beach.” The Sightbit team plans to expand internationally and has been invited to conduct additional pilots at beaches in the US and Europe.