Vir­tual swim­ming may stop drown­ing

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - COX PLATE 2019 -

VIR­TUAL tech­nol­ogy is teach­ing peo­ple to swim and sur­vive in Aus­tralia’s treach­er­ous seas — with­out get­ting wet.

A new wa­ter safety pro­gram de­signed to pre­vent drown­ings, uses 360-de­gree life­like, in­ter­ac­tive videos to place kids in vir­tual rips and teach them how to “es­cape” and sur­vive.

It was hoped the tech­nol­ogy — ap­plied through head­mounted dis­plays — could also be used to help mi­grants learn to iden­tify, avoid and sur­vive po­ten­tially deadly cur­rents and rips in Aussie oceans.

It was de­vel­oped by Swin­burne Uni­ver­sity and Life Sav­ing Vic­to­ria. Swin­burne re­searcher Paola Araiza-Alba, from Mex­ico, said the tech­nol­ogy promised to save lives not only in Aus­tralia but around the world.

Peo­ple could learn how to han­dle rips with­out be­ing placed “in the real thing” and put in dan­ger, she said.

“Many mi­grants know noth­ing of rips. When I ar­rived in Aus­tralia I, my­self, knew noth­ing about them,” she said.

The vir­tual re­al­ity ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram could also be used by Aus­tralians liv­ing hun­dreds or even thou­sands of kilo­me­tres from the sea; pro­vid­ing them with the skills to spot and get out of rips when they were on beach hol­i­days.

Drown­ing is among the top five causes of un­in­ten­tional in­jury deaths in chil­dren un­der 14 world­wide, with about 1.2 mil­lion peo­ple around the world — one in five of them chil­dren — dy­ing by drown­ing ev­ery year.

And for ev­ery child who dies from drown­ing, an­other five re­ceive emer­gency de­part­ment care for non-fa­tal sub­mer­sion in­juries, with most drown­ings oc­cur­ring in open wa­ter and rips of­ten to blame.

“Roughly 80 per cent of drown­ing in­ci­dents can be pre­vented, and pub­lic wa­ter-safety ed­u­ca­tion and ba­sic swim­ming skills are the key in­ter­ven­tions. How­ever, ac­cess to learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties can be limited by cost and lo­ca­tion ... sus­tain­able so­lu­tions need to be ex­plored to coun­ter­act iden­ti­fi­able is­sues that pre­vent chil­dren from ac­cess­ing wa­ter­safety ed­u­ca­tion. One such so­lu­tion is us­ing im­mer­sive VR tech­nol­ogy to en­hance stu­dent’s wa­ter-safety knowledge,” her re­port states.

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