Newquay has one of the most unsuspectingly treacherous sections of coastline in the UK. It’s full of bays, coves and harsh cliff faces, where a swift rising tide can quickly cut you off from beach exits.
Every week a number of launches are made from Newquay Lifeboat station, aiding trapped beach visitors who have no means of escaping the rising tides. A great number of these rescues, and indeed the fatalities, could be prevented by increasing awareness of tidal behaviour and helping visitors to safely enjoy the coastline.
Working closely with the Coastal Safety team at RNLI we designed and developed a prototype iPhone app that visitors could use to visualise the tide changes along a 20 mile section of the Newquay coastline, allowing them to plan ahead and stay safe during the activity.
In 2014 we embarked on an R&D project with the RNLI to explore using mobile technology in their work to improve coastal safety. They showed us the wealth of knowledge and data they have on human behaviour by the sea, and together we examined the mechanisms, both past and present, to communicate dangerous tidal behaviour to the various groups engaging in coastal activities; walkers, beach goers, anglers, etc. Having seen varying levels of success from targeted information leaflets, prominently displayed notice boards and physical traffic light systems, the RNLI could see that mobile technology, if approached in the right way, could become a way to engage with and educate those that were still getting caught out.
User Interface development during R&D
Commonly an R&D project comes without defined guidelines, so we work to establish a framework for these as we go. In addition to designing the app UI, our design team put together app style guide suggestions to extend the organisation’s existing brand guidelines into the mobile technology space. By doing this we ensure that the UI stands up against the existing guidelines, but isn’t constrained by them. New technologies and platforms will always push the boundaries of established brand guidelines, so it's important to consider them early if possible.
Using data to predict the future
For centuries tide times have been calculated years ahead and nautical map data is used every day to accurately measure sea depths so that ships can navigate without running aground. We rationalised that if we could overlay these data sets we could tell if a user was under water or not, in any given location. We could then develop a digital version of the RNLI’s established traffic light system to build a warning system based on the position and rate of change.
With tide times and sea level data crunched, we also pull in 7 days of weather data to aid the user in their decision making, because extreme weather can affect tides. The app allows you to use your current location, or pick a location on the map within the geographical test area, and then see predictions for that location in the coming days.
When there’s no other option but to call for help
As part of the process we explored the mechanics of calling for help via the app, and giving advice to a user on how to make themselves visible to a Lifeboat in an emergency situation.
In a similar approach to the suggested brand guideline additions, we discussed how it might be possible to open source this element of the project or create a library so that consideration for this didn’t need to happen for every app project in the future. By doing this, we would help to ensure a consistency of information and user experience across apps released by the RNLI.
The future is bright
It’s early days for the technology and there are a few things missing from the prototype that we can see would be useful in the real world, like push notifications and consideration for extreme weather on the tides (there currently isn’t any). But in the spirit of build, learn and iterate it’s being trialled by a pilot user group in Newquay as we speak - and the initial feedback is most definitely encouraging...
"We have been down to test the app and it is absolutely brilliant. It really works. I actually stood on a beach by a headland and watched the tide come in until the water was lapping at my feet and the traffic light system went red. Fantastic and very exciting!"
If you’d like us to help explore new product and service possibilities with you, drop us a line. We love anything that fits our socially useful innovation mission.