Ann Arbor YMCA Leads the Way in AI-Informed Drowning Prevention

A wearable AI monitoring device. Photo provided by YMCA Ann Wearable AI monitoring device courtesy of YMCA Ann Arbor.

The Ann Arbor YMCA, better known as the Y, at 400 West Washington St. is leading the way in drowning prevention through their use of an artificial intelligence technology called Lynxight.

In fact, they are the first YMCA in the country to do so. James Highsmith, vice president of membership and marketing, shared that about 10-15 YMCAs, athletic clubs, insurance companies and others from as far away as Australia have reached out to learn more. “It’s getting around for sure,” he said. 

Safety comes first

The Y’s motivation was not reactive, but was instead a proactive approach to ensure their natatorium continues to be as safe as possible.

While they have never experienced a drowning, James Highsmith emphasizes, “Drowning is always on your mind…making sure that you are putting in your best efforts to prevent any type of distress scenario or just drowning in general. And so…[we were] having conversations about what we could possibly do to…decrease our response times…to prioritize drowning prevention and water safety even more. It’s always top of mind at the Y and so looking at creative and innovative ideas to essentially help with that effort was…the push to get this technology.”

The funder

The purchase was funded by the Michigan Department of Education Child Care Stabilization Grants.

“We received a grant specifically for our childcare programs….[that] have curriculum that encourages physical activity and part of that curriculum is that they use the pool weekly. So…understanding that our childcare was going to be utilizing the pool pretty consistently, we were able to [include] technology like this…in that grant award. Specifically because the grant [proposal] was focused on youth development and keeping our children safe,” he said. 


The Lynxight AI technology has been integrated very naturally and seamlessly with the Y’s existing closed-circuit television cameras.

A distress signal triggers a haptic alert on the smart watches worn by the lifeguards which improves response times. There are no alarms or distracting alerts that could disrupt the members’ pool experience or cause unnecessary panic. 

Data usage

Member response has been overwhelmingly positive, clearly providing peace of mind for the families. Initially some had data and privacy concerns about the use of AI. Highsmith ensures that the data is encrypted and stored on an in-house server. Lynxight doesn’t use any of the data or have access to it. 

The data gives the Y the ability to make informed decisions to improve safety and they are actively doing so.

Heat maps indicate what lanes are being used most frequently so they can better decide how many lifeguards are needed and where they should be positioned. Or, if a distress scenario is occurring regularly in the same area of the pool, they can address the situation by perhaps changing where the lifeguard stands are located. 

Sign up

Although it’s a little too early to tell if these aquatics improvements will spur more demand for their already popular swim lessons and summer camps, it couldn’t hurt to register early this year. 

Also, the upcoming national Y intiative “Safety Around Water” includes free week-long 45 minutes lessons for both members and non-members.

According to the website, activities include coloring activities, a discussion guide for parents and guardians to use with the children and a key guide with relevant information. These lessons do not require pool or water access.

Registration opens May 1.

Humans are irreplaceable

While Lynxight is a valuable tool, Highsmith really couldn’t emphasize its role strongly enough.

“Lynxight is never meant to be and will never, ever be a replacement for the human lifeguard. That’s not what it’s intended to do…The way we’re thinking about it is that we’ve essentially added a 21st century tool to an age-old position which is the human lifeguard. But, never, ever, ever have any plans to replace human lifeguards with Lynxigh,” he said. 

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