A new patent suggests that the next Apple Watch might detect drowning and alert nearby devices

A new patent suggests that the next Apple Watch might detect drowning and alert nearby devices

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Last year’s Apple event featuring the launch of the iPhone 15, Apple Watch Series 9, and Apple Watch Ultra 2 included a dedicated segment showcasing real-life stories of Apple devices saving lives through advanced safety features.

Whether it’s the heart rate detection on the Apple Watch, the satellite-based SOS function on the iPhone, or fault detection, it’s clear that these life-saving emergency safety features are a valuable offering.

Now, a newly filed patent reveals the company’s next step in this direction: a “digital lifeguard assistant” capable of detecting whether a swimmer is drowning or in distress, and sending a short-range SOS signal to alert nearby devices of the emergency.

A new patent suggests that the next Apple Watch might detect drowning and alert nearby devices

The described system first utilizes accelerometer and gyroscope data to determine if the wearer’s movements indicate drowning or any form of distress. It then looks for a sharp increase in heart rate and/or a drop in blood oxygen readings for further confirmation of an emergency.

The patent notes that “swimming metrics and other [biometric] information are input into a machine learning model trained to classify swimmers exhibiting regular or irregular behavior in the water.”

If a drowning pattern is detected, a radio signal will be broadcast to nearby devices, which will then display pop-up alerts and emit audible alarms.

The patent also addresses a significant challenge: radio signals are greatly attenuated underwater due to water conductivity, limiting the transmission range. However, using lower frequencies and narrower bandwidths in freshwater (which is less conductive than seawater) can somewhat mitigate this issue.

Apple specifies that the system is designed for use in shallow freshwater, such as swimming pools, ponds, and lakes.

The document highlights the need for such a system, as 3,500 people die each year from drowning in the United States alone, shedding light on the limitations of current camera-based solutions to this problem, which are expensive, require complex setup and maintenance, and are often subject to experimentation.

While a patent filing typically doesn’t signify a specific upcoming product or feature, in this case, the described technology seems readily implementable with existing devices and aligns perfectly with Apple Watch’s positioning as a potential life-saver on a broad scale.

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