In the summer of 2019, Israeli friends Adam Bismut and Netanel Eliav were enjoying a day at the beach. As they watched a lifeguard peering out over the Mediterranean through a pair of binoculars, they looked at each other in disbelief.

In a country with advanced computer-vision technologies such as Mobileye, why should lifeguards have to rely on naked eyes or binoculars to keep swimmers safe?

A year later, their artificial-intelligence and image-recognition solution is poised to revolutionize ocean rescue.

Sightbit provides lifeguards with a current picture of swimmer whereabouts and real-time data on changing winds, waves and hazards.

“It’s about features and accuracy,” says Sightbit CMO and cofounder Minna Shezaf.

“We warn of real-time hazards when swimmers enter potentially dangerous situations such as deep water by themselves; when children are alone in or near the water; and when swimmers enter areas defined as dangerous, like near a breakwater structure where currents could sweep the swimmer into that structure.”

Sightbit also provides crowd-management solutions, updates on weather conditions, and estimates of how many lifeguards are needed on a given day.

On May 20, Sightbit began a full-scale pilot of the technology at the popular Palmahim Beach near Rishon LeZion in collaboration with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

“The lifeguards and INPA are really design partners for us to perfect the product,” Shezaf tells ISRAEL21c.

“There are AI lifeguard systems for swimming pools, and they’ve received rave reviews. But a more complex technology is needed to keep swimmers safe at the beach. You usually have many more people– an average of 10,000 per day in high season at Palmahim — plus wind and weather conditions like rip currents, a leading cause of ocean rescue.”

Ultimately, it’s about saving lives, Shezaf adds. Drowning is the third leading cause of accidental death worldwide, and near drownings result in many serious injuries.

“We all identify strongly with this really important public health need,” says Shezaf.

“All” includes her three co-founders COO Bismut, CEO Eliav and CTO Gadi Kovler, who are Ben-Gurion University graduates.

Like the university, the startup is based in Beersheva, a city that is, ironically enough, nowhere near a beach.

Pre-seed funding for Sightbit came from the university’s Cactus Capital, Israel’s first student-run venture capital firm.

Shezaf says the founders are aware of several other early-stage startups working on similar technologies for beach lifeguards but so far none has been deployed.

The development stage of the Sightbit project involved creating new technological features and adapting existing person-identification capability for an ocean setting.

“It started as a part-time project for all of us and now it’s become our whole lives.”

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