A new wave of technology:

crossing cultural divides to save lives on Australian beaches

Woman in water.

Over the past 10 years, 41 per cent of the drownings recorded on Queensland beaches have involved international tourists, recent migrants or people from culturally or linguistically different backgrounds. Of the 5000+ rescues performed over the same period, over 80% involved people swimming outside of the red and yellow flags. 

To help change these alarming statistics, Surf Life Saving Queensland (SLSQ) and UQ researchers are working together to refine SLSQ’s world-first ‘Life-Fi’ – an innovative technology that breaks down communication barriers to assist in keeping all beachgoers safe.

First trialled in November 2018, Life-Fi provides free wi-fi between the red and yellow flags, providing positive reinforcement for beachgoers to put safety first and swim in patrolled locations.

Once connected, Life-Fi automatically detects the language being used on the beachgoer’s mobile phone and provides culturally specific surf safety information in the language detected – providing instant education as to beach safety practices.

Importantly, Life-Fi also allows surf lifesavers and lifeguards to ‘push out’ valuable, real-time alerts, ensuring all connected beachgoers are alerted to current conditions, beach closures and dangers in their primary language.

Lifeguard flags

UQ researchers Dr Nicole Hartley, Professor Brent Ritchie and Ms Yawei Jiang have been using evidence-based research to help SLSQ refine this valuable new tool and its engagement with beachgoers.

“We’ve been working closely with SLSQ for many years on a number of initiatives and they are continually trialling new technology and innovative ways to provide vital information to people to encourage them to swim between the flags,” Dr Hartley said.

“After the initial trial of Life-Fi they engaged us to help them measure how effective it was and look at ways to improve its use and uptake on Australian beaches.

“We are doing this through a variety of methods such as lab testing using eye tracking to look at how people are using and interacting with the app.”

Professor Brent Ritchie added, “Life-Fi offers the very real opportunity to increase knowledge and awareness of beach safety practices for all beachgoers, be they international or domestic,"

"Overcoming the challenge of language barriers, Life-Fi is technology that really makes a difference at a community level.”
Dr Nicole Hartley, Professor Brent Ritchie and Ms Yawei Jiang

Dr Nicole Hartley, Professor Brent Ritchie and Ms Yawei Jiang

Dr Nicole Hartley, Professor Brent Ritchie and Ms Yawei Jiang

Read more inspiring research partnership stories from the 2019 BEL Research Profile.