BRISTOL, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Rip currents can quickly carry a swimmer away from the shore, and sometimes, the swimmer or rescuer does not make it out alive.
That’s why a group of middle schoolers recently created a life-saving solution.
The “Solve for Tomorrow” club at the Kickemuit Middle School looks for problems in their community and finds solutions.
“We choose our problem that we want to investigate, then we research, interview and find out more about the problem,” Mary Cabral, the club’s advisor and a teacher at the school said. “Then the kids divide up and decide if they want to work on the technology side of the problem or a physical design solution.”
“Solve for Tomorrow” is a competition sponsored by Samsung and the Kickemuit Middle Schoolers were recently named national semi-finalists for their riptide rescue solution. The group won $15,000 in funding for new technology at their school.
The middle schoolers were one of 75 groups in the country to receive the award, and the only semi-finalist from Rhode Island. With the funding, they will be able to purchase items like 3-D printers and computers. Each student in the group will also get a new Chrome Book.
“What we wanted to do was keep Rhode Islanders safe and educate them about what to do if you are caught in a riptide, or if someone else you see is caught in a riptide,” 8th-grader Lucy O’Brien said.
The group decided to research rip currents following the death of a Providence man last summer, who drowned while saving his two sons and their friend from a riptide in Bristol.
The death of a Bristol police officer a few years ago was also an inspiration for the team. Patrolman Richard Jean-Georges was vacationing in Costa Rica in 2015 and died while saving his brother from a rip current.
Cabral said the project was personal to her because one of her 7th-grade students also died while trying to rescue her cousin from a rip current off Warwick Neck.
“I believe this project is important because it leaves a big impact on the community,” 6th-grader Marissa Cabral said.
The team created an app which uses live buoy data to educate and warn people when rip currents are more prevalent.
“We had to do a lot of research on how to take the live buoy data and convert it into a working app,” O’Brien said.
The mobile phone application also educates people about what to do if caught in a rip current, how to rescue someone caught in one and provides a quick option for the user to call 911.
The team also spoke to a lifeguard about other possible solutions to keep rescuers safe.
“He described a device, almost like a cannon, that you push the button and it fires out an inflatable device that lands in the water,” 8th-grader Eliza White said. “So, we decided to include that and a boogie board so that everyone involved can survive.”
The club demonstrated their device for 12 News on Bristol Town Beach.
The user pumped air into a chamber with a bicycle pump, and when a valve was opened, a life preserver shot out of a PVC pipe and into the water.
Once the life preserver hit the water, it inflated, a process which could save a swimmer caught in a rip current. The attached boogie board could be used by a lifeguard or bystander to keep the rescuer safe, too.
“People of all ages are potential victims of rip currents. So, that’s why they thought it was a problem they wanted to attack. It can affect the young swimmer, the strong swimmer, the adult swimmer and they wanted to makes sure they found solutions in all cases,” Cabral said. “I’m very proud of these kids.”
The app currently only works on Android devices, but the team is currently working on ways to bring it to iPhone users.
To download the app, people must first add the MIT app inventor from the Google Play Store, then download the Kickemuit Middle School Riptide Rescue app.
This is the group’s second time winning for Rhode Island and being considered in the national competition. They have won $35,000 over the last three years.
Previously, they researched distracted driving and dangerous intersections. The intersection idea was inspired by the tragic death of a 6-year-old boy who was struck by a car while biking with his family in Bristol in 2018. They developed a 3-D cross walk which, when painted on a road, would slow a driver down because it would look like a raised speed bump.
Cabral said the kids watch the news carefully to find problems in their community and decide as a group how they want solve them….for tomorrow.