THIS goes way beyond water wings. An AI system is learning to recognise the panicky movements people make when they are drowning. The idea is that the system could one day be used to save children's lives when there are no lifeguards around.
Ultrasonic systems at swimming pools can alert lifeguards if someone is underwater too long - but few pools have them and they are no help at unguarded river banks and beaches. So Ken Sakamura and colleagues at the University of Tokyo created an AI system which could, for example, activate a body-worn flotation bag in an emergency.
To train it, the team asked a lifeguard to wear a pressure sensor and mimic the behaviour of swimmers who get into difficulty: making rapid, flailing arm movements with their body vertical. The lifeguard generated a telltale pressure change profile that the system, based on neural network software, could reliably distinguish from normal swimming.
The team want to make the system more robust by training it using more volunteers, with an accelerometer added to the sensor pack. They will present their results at the International Conference on Consumer Electronics in Las Vegas, Nevada, on 12 January.
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