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Virtual reality helping people swim and survive

Mandy Squires, October 27, 2019 7:00PM Herald Sun

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Volunteer lifesaver Zoe Breitkreutz looks out for swimmers needing help. media_cameraVolunteer lifesaver Zoe Breitkreutz looks out for swimmers needing help.


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Virtual technology is teaching people to swim and survive at Australia’s dangerous beaches — without getting wet.

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

It is hoped the technology — applied through head-mounted 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.

Students using virtual reality to learn about water safety. media_cameraStudents using virtual reality to learn about water safety.

The virtual reality education program could also be used by Australians living hundreds or even thousands of kilometres from the ocean, 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 hospital emergency department care for non-fatal submersion* injuries, with most drownings occurring in open water and rip currents often to blame.

14 year old Surfers Paradise Surf Lifesaving Club member Danny Pointing saved a Melbourne tourist from drowning in a rip whilst training early this morning with his fellow club members. The area where the tourist was swimming off Surfers Paradise beach. media_cameraSwimming at a beach can be dangerous if you don’t have the skills to stay safe, don’t follow warning signs or swim between the flags.

A Swinburne study this year of more than 180 10-12 year-old children showed the use of the virtual reality (VR) technology was very effective in engaging kids in learning about beach safety, and they showed a marked* improvement in their knowledge, Ms Araiza-Alba said.

Nippers media_cameraCaloundra Nippers Tai, Lily, Molly, Ryan, Jade and Maggie were nominated for awards last year after they rescued a family of seven swept out in a rip off the Kings Beach Bar in Queensland and brought them back to safety. Picture: Lachie Millard

Rips are fast-flowing currents of water moving back out to sea rather than towards the beach.

To identify where there could be a rip, be on the lookout for discoloured water, formed from sand being stirred up from the bottom; foam on the surface that extends beyond the breaking waves; a ripple appearance when the water around is generally calm; floating debris with the current; and waves breaking larger and further out on both sides of the rip.

Don’t panic if you get caught in a rip, but try and remain calm.

Stay afloat and signal to lifesavers by putting your arm straight up in the air and waving.

Always swim between the red and yellow flags. Never swim at unpatrolled beaches and never swim alone.

Source: Royal Life Saving Australia

Surf Lifesaving media_cameraLifeguard Julian Grainger rescues a swimmer during a practice drill at Portsea surf beach. Picture: Andrew Henshaw


  • rips: fast-flowing currents of water moving away from the beach
  • potentially: possibly
  • unintentional: accidental
  • submersion: the action of putting something underwater
  • marked: noticeable


Why swim between the flags?

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  1. Which two organisations developed this technology?
  2. What did Paola Arazia-Alba know about rips when she arrived in Australia?
  3. How many people drown each year?
  4. What is a rip?
  5. How do you signal to a lifeguard if you need help?


1. Beach Safety Day
What are some other things that you think could be done to help kids learn about beach safety? Create a program of activities for a special Beach Safety Day to be held at your school. Design a poster that lets kids at your school know why this is an important activity.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Health and Physical Education

2. Extension
What do you think should be included in the interactive videos to help people understand the most important things about rips? Create a storyboard, write a script or write a description of one interactive video. Use the information in today’s story and perhaps some more research about rips and beach safety.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Media Arts, Health and Physical Education

After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many connectives as you can find in pink. Discuss if these are being used as conjunctions, or to join ideas and create flow.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Have you had lessons about how to stay safe at the beach?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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