Summer is well and truly here, and for many of us, it's a time for long beach days and road trips along the coast. Now we know how to slip, slop, slap (for the non-Aussies, let’s catch you up some sunsafe education) but do we know how to avoid the biggest killer on Australian beaches?
dunnn... duuuunnnn duun... duuunnnnnnnn dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dunnnnnnnnnnn dunnnn.
Actually, it’s not Jaws. It’s rips! Around 90 per cent of beach drownings are related to rips. The strong currents which move water back out to sea kill 21 people in Australia every year – that’s more than shark attacks (three each year) and snake bites (11 a year) combined.
We chatted to Maddie King, UTS student and inventor of Clever GIRL, a real-time rip detector, about her tips for rip safety this summer and how her invention will prevent deaths.
Clever GIRL: Behind the invention
What is Clever GIRL? It's a real-time rip detection device that harnesses renewable energy from rip currents. Like a ‘buoy’, Clever GIRL is placed out in the bay and when the device detects a rip, a warning light on top of a buoy goes off and alerts beachgoers that there is a rip in that part of the water.
Why the name? Clever GIRL stands for “Global Intelligent Rip Locator”. Also, girls are cleverer than buoys :)
What was your ‘aha’ moment, as in ‘this is why we need the Clever GIRL!’? I’ve worked as a lifeguard at my local pool for four years now. My ‘aha’ moment was when my boss brought a rip simulator into the aquatic center to teach children how to escape rips when they’re at the beach. The only problem was, the majority of the children, and their parents, hadn’t even heard of a rip current before. I realised this was a major issue and I needed to do more.
Tell us about your journey from idea to today? Once I’d read almost every article on the net about rip currents and understood how they operated, I brainstormed every possible solution I could think of to reduce the number of people that get caught in rip currents.
I knew I wanted to focus on a physical model that incorporated renewable energy, as I’m very conscious of the environment. After investigating existing renewable energy devices, I learned how to physically make a small-scale model of a wind turbine, and I waterproofed it so it could work under water.
This was my first prototype, which was about as large as my hand. After refining my ideas, I made the first to-scale Clever GIRL. This model was tested in a controlled rip simulated environment, and I was able to adjust the model to ensure the light only went off at the minimum speed a rip is known to commence at. After three more prototypes refining the design, I am currently in the process of designing an anchoring device for the buoy. In the future, I would also like to include a water sensor in the product, so the calibration can be replicated easily.
I knew I wanted to focus on a physical model that incorporated renewable energy, as I’m very conscious of the environment
What has been your greatest challenge? During the earlier prototypes, I had to learn how to waterproof the components of my invention.
What's unique about this invention? The Clever GIRL is the first real-time rip detection device that uses energy made by the currents themselves to power the warning system without batteries. I took a patent out on this product two years ago.
How long till it’s on Australian beaches? Right now I want to further develop the prototype. I need coding if I’m to put an electronic water speed sensor in the buoy and I’m hoping to collaborate with a UTS student that has knowledge about coding. All enquiries welcome :) Once I have the anchoring and coding systems developed, it will be ready for the beach!
Have you won any awards for Clever GIRL? I was selected as a member of the Australian Young Scientist team to compete at the 2017 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles, USA. I competed against 1400 students representing 70 countries across the world. The Clever GIRL has been featured on Sunrise, ABC News, Triple J Radio, ABC Radio, and the Sunday Telegraph. Skoda also engaged me for one of their advertising campaigns to discuss the Clever GIRL under their The Mind Behind campaign.
What’s your advice to budding inventors? Never give up! There will always be hiccups and challenges that you face when trying to create a new product, however, you need to push through and keep going. Ensure you set plenty of milestones along the way so you can acknowledge your progress.
And for the female future innovators …? There are so many opportunities for female STEM students. If you’ve a solution for a problem, reach out to other students in different disciplines to help you achieve your goal. Because the future is about collaboration and not individual work.
If you’ve a solution for a problem, reach out to other students in different disciplines to help you achieve your goal... the future is about collaboration and not individual work.
Maddie's tips for rip safety
What should people know about rips? Rip currents are the largest killers on Australian beaches, and even though they’re hard to detect, if you stay between the yellow and red flags you’ll be safe.
If a fellow student gets caught in a rip, what would you recommend he/she do? Always swim between the red and yellow flags. But If you do get caught:
Firstly, don’t panic!
Stay afloat (float on your back if needed) and place one hand in the air and wait for a lifeguard to come.
Never swim directly against a rip current as this is how most people become exhausted and drown.
About Maddie, the inventor
Maddie studies a Bachelor of Construction Project Management and Bachelor of Arts International Studies at UTS, as well as a Diploma of Innovation. Upon graduation, Maddie hopes to become a project manager at a leading construction company, with the aim to bring innovation into the Australia construction industry.