The beach warning system built by Husky contributes to the safety of swimmers


Green light, go. Red light, no. An MTU graduate and his professor are launching an autonomous immediate warning system that helps beachgoers decide whether it is safe to go into the water.

Play Husky-made warning light system makes Great Lakes beaches safer video

Huskies turn ideas into careers. Michigan Tech Graduate Jake Soter ’19 ’20 began working on a project to help beachgoers decide whether it was safe to get in the water while working with Professor Andrew Barnard on his senior design project on Lake Superior carried out. Many hours and many iterations later, they developed SwimSmart warning systems. Because on most of our beaches on the Great Lakes, neither a Pamela Anderson nor a flag warning system is in sight. And knowing what the state of the sea is like before you get in the water can save lives.

Lifeguards and flag warning systems are not uncommon on ocean beaches. Both are a rarity on the Great Lakes, which can pose similar dangers to swimmers, from raging currents to high waves. And man-made structures like breakwalls and piers can create additional water hazards like structural currents.

In many coastal Great Lakes communities, the fire department or other municipal workers are responsible for monitoring National Weather Service (NWS) beach forecasts and changing flags to indicate if it’s safe to go into the water. When there are more pressing matters off the beach – or the weather changes quickly – there is a time lag between forecasts and flag updates, said alumnus Jacob Soter ’19’20, co-founder of SwimSmart warning systems.

“As engineers, we thought, ‘There has to be a better solution than changing these flags,’” Soter said. “What we figured out is essentially using a cellular network to automatically change the flags. It can be controlled with your phone or any computer. ”And the signal strength exceeds conventional cellular networks. “It’s a long-range 5G generation,” he said. “Like playing another card game.”

Confusion about the meaning of warning flags can also be a problem, Soter said. That is why the SwimSmart device is based on the well-known traffic light. Green means conditions of low danger, yellow means conditions are considerably harsher – with extra precautions, especially for inexperienced or weaker swimmers – and red means high danger. Flashing red means the beach is closed.

Effective and inexpensive prevention of drowning

The number of drowning deaths on the Great Lakes rose from 97 in 2019 to 108 in 2020. Of the 980 deaths since 2010, nearly half have occurred in Lake Michigan, according to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Projectwho has reported 34 drownings so far this year. Not all deaths are due to bathing beach conditions. But helping swimmers use good judgment is an effective preventive measure, said Andrew Barnard, director of the Great Lakes Research Center, Professor, consultant, spin-off co-founder and alum colleague – he graduated in ’02 and ’04.

“Almost everyone knows that you have to stay out of the water in waves six feet or more,” said Barnard. “It’s the three to five feet tall that look deceptively funny. They are the deadliest. “

Soter who deserves his Study of electrical engineering and computer science and be MBA at Michigan Tech, said the SwimSmart project started in Tech’s SENSE company (Barnard advises the team). SENSE – Strategic training through experience with marine systems – focuses on maritime projects to get students excited about maritime architectures and systems that can benefit both defense organizations and communities. The spin-off really got rolling when Soter accepted it as his Senior design project, required for all graduates of the MTU College of Engineering. Win Pitch competitions and innovation awards provided additional encouragement.

SwimSmart connects over the Internet so communities can control beach warning systems remotely. The lights can either autonomously follow the NWS beach forecasts or be overridden by local beach managers. “The security system works like a fire alarm system in which several lights, emergency call buttons, call boxes and buzzers can be connected to a single control center,” explains Soter. Weather stations and cameras can be integrated to return forecast data on the beach to NWS and provide a closed warning system that can either be wired into a building or run on a stand-alone solar battery source.

“We found out – we are engineers and we couldn’t have it any other way.”Jake Soter ’19 ’20, co-founder of SwimSmart Warning Systems

Two of the busiest Lake Michigan beaches on the Michigan coast use SwimSmart. Frankfurt beach has one system at the beach entrance and another at the pier. Muskegon’s Pere Marquette Park also piloted two of the devices. “You like the simplicity,” said Soter.

The concept works just as well for remote beaches, he said. Beyond the mere warning system, there are numerous uses for additional smartly connected beach technologies, including the assessment of climate resilience markers such as beach erosion.

Soter creates an endless loop with NWS in which the SwimSmart systems return information to the national authority, making it possible to send more frequent and more accurately localized reports to the public. Usually there are only a few daily updates at the moment.

“With sensor arrays on the buoys, there is no reason why we cannot send real-time data back to the weather service,” said Soter, noting that the function would be particularly useful in the “dark spots” where forecasting tools are currently not available. It would also meet the need for more near-shore buoys on the lakes – currently most of the buoys are offshore.

“We can place a data point on the beaches. Then there is no more guessing.”Jake Soter ’19 ’20, co-founder of SwimSmart Warning Systems

At the Great Lakes Research Center Boathouse sit two earlier prototypes of the Project. Laughing, Soter said he would never have believed how many prototypes it would take to bring the product to a marketable level – and that SwimSmart is still iterating with the help of feedback from customers like Frankfort and Muskegon executives. “We work closely with them,” he said.

Across the board, Soter envisions the devices as hubs that offer multitasking capabilities beyond swimming safety and environmental monitoring – providing people looking for the Great Lakes lifestyle and opportunities for work-life changes brought about by the COVID 19 pandemic inspired more connectivity. Both circumstances opened a door for Soter, who decided to take the plunge into his own business instead of working where he was hired.

“More and more people are working remotely. That’s where we move as a society, ”he said. “Working remotely requires better wireless technology. With remote routers, we can place Wi-Fi on the beaches or anywhere. “

Currently, beta testing, product awareness, and relationship building are part of the fledgling company’s overall strategy as it connects with others involved in the so-called blue economy – a new perspective on promoting sustainable economic activity in, on and around the water. The state of Michigan wants to participate in the initiative as “Freshwater and Freshwater Innovation Capital.“SwimSmart wants to be there.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university with more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the university offers more than 120 bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the fields of natural sciences and technology, engineering, forestry, economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics and social sciences. Our Michigan Upper Peninsula campus overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.

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