London

Local 'smart beach' project aims to use artificial intelligence for beach safety

The Smart Beach project is headed by the Nuclear Innovation Institute's (NII) Municipal Innovation Council (MIC) in Port Elgin, with an end goal of finding concrete ways to measure and inform beachgoers of potential hazards they may run into on local beaches.

Wave swells of up to 2.3 metres in height were recorded in September

Left to right: Becky Smith, NII; Dr. Chris Houser and Alex Smith, University of Windsor; Kara Van Myall, MIC Chair (Municipal Innovation Council)

A pilot project in Kincardine, Ont., is trying to change the way beach safety is handled for the better.

The Smart Beach project is headed by the Nuclear Innovation Institute's (NII) Municipal Innovation Council (MIC) in Port Elgin, with an end goal of finding concrete ways to measure and inform beachgoers of potential hazards they may run into on local beaches.

"There have been a handful of drownings at Station Beach over the last 10 years, and a real desire from the community to make it a safer place," said Becky Smith, director of the Centre for Municipal Innovation at NII.

The three-year Smart Beach project, which is currently in its first year, is aimed at developing an artificial intelligence based real-time warning system to give beachgoers up-to-date information concerning local water conditions. Possible hazards include rough surf, and rip currents that pull people out into the water.

This past summer, the project team deployed a number of sensors at Station Beach in Kincardine to collect data on wave and water conditions, weather, wind, and human activity. One data collection tool came in the form of a real-time aquatic ecosystem observation (RAEON) buoy on loan from the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research at the University of Windsor.

Significant wave heights (H) or the highest one third (1/3) of waves recorded during September 2022 from the RAEON buoy off Station Beach, Kincardine. High surf can present a danger to swimmers. (Municipal Innovation Council)

Additionally, cameras were temporarily installed to collect anonymized photos that help the team understand how water conditions impact beachgoers' tendencies and behaviour, and whether beach access design could be a key to promoting safety.

"We had a couple of summer students on the ground this summer as well, collecting information on beach user knowledge and their activities, and where they're getting their information from," said Smith.

These data points will come together to be fed into, and train, a machine learning model to understand and predict when waves and rip currents will form.

"What a successful first year for the Smart Beach project," said Chris Houser, dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Windsor, and lead researcher on the Smart Beach technology.

"We saw strong public engagement as our team surveyed beachgoers and worked closely with partner groups and the Municipal Innovation Council—and we are in good shape to move into year two of our research."

Next year, the team plans to test a communication tool to provide real-time alerts and information to beachgoers, build on their existing education campaign, re-deploy a RAEON buoy, install additional cameras, and possibly expand the project to other local beaches.

"I think where we really right now are focused on is, how do we communicate that information to people that are coming up for a day trip, or coming from a couple hours away, that we maybe don't have that local connection," said Smith.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alessio Donnini

Reporter/Editor

Alessio is a Sarnia-born, London-raised multimedia journalist. Graduating from Fanshawe College's Broadcast Journalism program, he's worked in markets from Toronto to Windsor, and has a love for all things news. Alessio can be heard on weekday afternoons reading the news for Afternoon Drive. In his free time, he can be found enjoying a good book, watching a documentary, or learning to cook a new recipe.

now