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West Japan pool turns to wearable sensors to track swimmers, prevent drowning

A sensor, right, and a smartwatch are seen together in this image taken at Nippon Steel Nisshin Aqua Park in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, on Nov. 4, 2020. The text "Lane 8" refers to the swimming lane where a sensor has detected a swimmer who may be drowning. (Mainichi/Misa Koyama)
The black sensor is seen attached to a pair of goggles worn by a swimmer in this image taken at Nippon Steel Nisshin Aqua Park in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, on Nov. 4, 2020. (Mainichi/Misa Koyama)

KURE, Hiroshima -- A water park in this west Japan city has introduced a new accident prevention feature in the form of sensors strapped to swimmers which can detect if a person has been underwater for 30 seconds or more and issue an alert to staff.

    The "smart pool system" implemented at Nippon Steel Nisshin Aqua Park in the Hiroshima Prefecture city of Kure is said to be the first initiative of its kind in western Japan, and it's intended that the system will allow for greater levels of safety than can be attained just by pool supervisors and visuals provided by machines.

    The sensor, measuring about 4 centimeters in diameter, is clipped to swimmers' goggles. Bluetooth technology and other features can communicate the location of people swimming in the facility to tablets carried by staff in its surveillance center, and on smartwatches they wear.

    If a swimmer remains underwater and unmoving for 30 seconds or more, screens on the tablets and smartwatches will flash red, and emit vibration and sound warnings while also letting staff know which lane the swimmer is in. The sensors also record and display information on poolside monitors about how far and how long people have swam, and even the number of turns they've made, making them useful for understanding how much exercise a person has done and how they can keep healthy.

    A poolside monitor shows how far and for how long swimmers have swam based on information recorded by goggle-mounted sensors, at Nippon Steel Nisshin Aqua Park in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, on Nov. 4, 2020. (Mainichi/Misa Koyama)

    The system was developed in Spain around 5 years ago, and its implementation at the Nippon Steel Nisshin Aqua Park is the second one nationally, after it was first introduced at a heated swimming pool in the central Japan town of Shimizu, Shizuoka Prefecture. It has been installed at a cost of around 17 million yen (about $164,369).

    A manager at the administrative division of Shinko Sports Chugoku Co., which runs the pool, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "There can be conditions in which pool supervisors can't see clearly due to the sun or waves. By using the system to assist them, we want to ensure safety for people who use our services."

    (Japanese original by Misa Koyama, Hiroshima Bureau)

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