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Every ocean lover knows the perils of getting caught in a rip current. Experienced swimmers know it is relatively easy to escape the narrow channel of fast moving water by floating and allowing it to drag you further into the ocean or by swimming alongside the shore. However, novice beachgoers often panic, and try to swim to land, placing themselves at risk of drowning due to fatigue. According to the US National Ocean Service, the currents kill about 100 Americans each year and account for 80% of all lifeguard rescues. These scary statistics may soon be a thing of the past, thanks to Clever GIRL (Global Intelligent Rip Locator), a smart buoy that alerts swimmers of the presence of deadly rip currents.
The ingenious device is the brainchild of Australian teenager Maddison King, who created Clever GIRL as a project for her Grade 12 Design and Technology class. The 18-year-old, who works as a lifeguard during her spare time, came up with the brilliant idea after discovering that most children were unable to detect rip currents.
The basketball-sized plastic foam-filled buoy, which can be attached to a chain of similar devices or the ocean floor, is fitted with a small propeller — akin to the one found on many boats. When the water starts to churn at speeds of over 70 centimeters per second, it spins the propeller fast enough to power the light atop the buoy, warning swimmers to stay clear of the area.
Though it sounds simple enough, the youngster had to overcome numerous design challenges to ensure the float was effective, safe, and environmentally friendly. She picked a red light since it is easy to see in the bright sunlight and also because the color serves as a universal warning sign for tourists that do not speak the local language. The device’s smooth surface and high handles ensure swimmers do not get hurt, while the black, white, and red striped underside, keeps sharks and other animals at bay. To prevent the turbine’s metal ball bearing from rusting, Maddison selected an environmentally-friendly waterproof marine grade lubricant. She also hopes to add a siren to Clever GIRL’s next iteration.
Not surprisingly, the invention has earned Maddison numerous accolades, including a finalist position at the BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Awards, one of Australia’s most prestigious student science awards. She also won a “Young Scientist Award” which qualified her to showcase the invention alongside 1,800 other students from 75 countries at the 2017 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.
Maddison, who is currently seeking funding to bring Clever GIRL to market, realizes that the current $300USD cost to make the buoy is too steep to deploy the clever contraption across beaches worldwide. She, however, estimates that the cost can be reduced to a more affordable $100 USD once the device is manufactured in larger quantities. As for the name? The witty teenager believes it is perfect given that “girls are cleverer than boys.”
Resources: clevergirl.global, abc.net.au, societyforscience.org