​Eye in the sky (2018)

The danger of open water makes it a challenging environment to conduct rescue operations in. Most public beaches have lifeguards. However, I have noticed that those lifeguards rely on either the naked eye or binoculars to spot distressed swimmers. These tactics become less effective when there are many swimmers or large waves. This project combines the use of Artificial Intelligence and cameras to create an automated system that looks for distressed swimmers.

The RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) told me that the UK lifeguards currently operate in a way. They place two flags on a beach to show people where they can swim. Then the lifeguards sit on their Jeep or their outpost (it is about 1.5 meters high) and observe the ocean by using binoculars. The difficulty for them is to spot people who are drowning right away when there are crowds of people in the water and the area they are watching is wide. In addition, a big wave can block their vision.




I believe the IDR has a pattern which will be easy for the computer to read. What does "IDR " looks like? When people are about to drown, they will stop talking and focus on breathing, trying to keep their mouth and nose above the water, hands keep paddling down in order to push themselves out of the water, they will try to change the location and keep their body vertical. I think these are signs that a computer can pick it up and provide an early warning to the lifeguard.

Eye in the sky is an interesting project that I started when considering the ethical issues behinds surveillance camera but ending up with an idea to use the so-called " evil technology" to develop a system which may save lives by monitoring you without exposing peoples' identities (everything become luster of colors in thermal image camera). With the early warning function, the lifeguard can operate in an easier and much more efficient way.

There is a term called "instinctive drowning response , IDR". The instinctive drowning response is how a typical body reacts when it is about to drown.

RNLI lifeguard operating with the "Eye in the sky" system mounted on balloon

"Eye in the sky" demo. In theory, the system will locate all the people in the water by the use of thermal image camera, and using ordinary camera with image recognition AI to identify and lock the people who is having the IDR in the water.

IDR in thermal camera testing.

RNLI preparing to launch the "Eye in the sky" system