Israeli firm hopes AI can curb drownings


Lifeguards simulate a mock drowning at a beach in the Mediterranean coastal city of Ashdod, as they demonstrate the artificial intelligence program aimed at detecting drowning threats. — AFP

An Israeli city is testing whether an artificial intelligence program that detects drowning threats can help save lives off its beaches.

The program, developed by a company called SightBit, uses information collected from surveillance cameras to determine who is in the water – an adult or child, for example – if they are moving or limp, and the current’s movement at that location.

If a threat is determined, the program sends an alert to a tablet held by the user – a lifeguard, in this case – with urgent instructions to act.

SightBit’s chief executive Netanel Eliav told AFP that he developed the technology after identifying a shortfall in how closed-circuit footage was being applied to boost safety in the water.

The program has been in use for more than a year in Ashdod, a city on Israel’s Mediterranean coast that chose to deploy SightBit technology in an area at a distance from the nearest lifeguard.

“We chose to locate the technology in areas away from the lifeguard towers, so the additional ‘eyes’ there help the lifeguards very much,” said Arie Turjeman, director of Ashdod’s coast division.

Eliav voiced confidence that SightBit can “save lives”, in a country that sees dozens of drowning deaths a year.

According to official figures, last year 29 people died during Israel’s March to October beach season, 22 of them in the Mediterranean, and 21 in areas with no lifeguard services.

Thirty-two people drowned during the 2020 season and 27 in 2019. – AFP

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