How the World Cup Technical Systems Work
The Paragliding World Cup uses a lot of, quite often cutting edge, technology to ensure that our competitions are efficient, fair and to reduce queues to a minimum in all possible situations. A few people have asked how it all works so here, in all its gory detail, is an insiders view of what goes on inside all of those laptops !!
Probably our most amazing technical leap has been the introduction of Live Tracking to all Paragliding World Cup events. Initially this was powered by small, Chinese made, units which only had a battery life of about 8 hours - this made the retrieval process a bit difficult since the battery would tend to fail just at the point where we were trying to locate the landed pilot. Having said that, it was still a big improvement on running comps prior to any live tracking.
Things changed dramatically at the Coupe D'Icare (St Hilaire) in 2013 when Flymaster (already a World Cup partner) announced their intention to supply the Paragliding World Cup with a fleet of the, already established, Flymaster Live units and to create a dedicated live tracking system to benefit all of their customers. A meeting was held in St Hilaire to discuss how much input we would get into how these units would work - and, as it turned out, we came away with the ability to customise the firmware in any way we wanted - this was very significant.
The Live, by default, is a very impressive piece of kit. It features fully configurable screens (using a Windows Application) so a pilot can set up any view he wants, across a huge number of available screens, set triggers for these screens so they are automatically brought up in flight and add or remove fields as required (so the default 'Motor Temp' - see the picture - had to go...). The unit can auto-negotiate with the cellular network in just about any country (as long as the sim card placed in it has no PIN set) and will go online in about 30 seconds - at this point it connects to the Flymaster server and the difference between the Live and the Nav starts to show.
When stationery, on take-off, the Live sends very little data to the server which helps keep the costs low. Once takeoff is detected this changes. Takeoff is detected by a speed (normally greater than 8km/h - but this can be changed) and a variance in the vario - at this point the Live becomes a world beating Live Tracker.
The Live sends a report to the server every 60 seconds but this report contains 60 positions in a very highly compressed format. The result is 1 second accuracy and very low data costs - in the Paragliding World Cup this is sufficient for us to produce Live Scoring to the accuracy we require (more about this later). They also use 'store and forward' technology so, if a unit has been out of GSM coverage for a while, it updates the track log as soon as it gets signal again - meaning we get full tracks at HQ.
These units also have a much better battery than our previous solution which completely removed the problem of missing pilots at the end of a day - the Live can run for about 40 hours even when sending 1 second data. Another major advantage of this unit is that the waypoints AND the task can be sent direct from the server (which means the pilot doesn't have to enter any of that info)
The first change we requested was to remove the ability for the unit to be powered off unless it is at HQ - it is important to us as organisers to be able to locate our pilots even after they have landed in case of, for example - a vehicle accident - so keeping the units switched on is imperative. Units are now switched off 'over the air' when back at HQ.
The ability to have the firmware modified quickly has been invaluable - other features we have added since include:-
No sounds by default (all alerts and alarms are set to off) - this was to avoid the unit conflicting with pilots preferred units (actually, now, many pilots switch these back on and use the Live as a primary navigation unit)
The addition of a 'Report Back' menu coupled with an automatic landing detection system and a siren to remind the pilot to report back on landing - this gives the options of 'Retrieve Needed','No Retrieve Needed' and 'Assistance Required' - the latter is the default to make it simple in the case of injury. These reports are fed directly to the HQ management software (FASTRetrieve) - again, more later.
Quite soon after the 'Report Back' menu we added in-flight level reporting - pilots are able, with very few key presses, to report in-flight conditions. We use a 3 level system where Level 1 means no problems, Level 2 means it's starting to look like this could get nasty and Level 3 means this is dangerous and I don't like being here - again these are passed to FASTRetrieve and then sent, immediately, to the meet director and the Technical Delegate.
The abiity to notify pilots when a task is stopped was added - the unit emits a very loud siren and 'Task Stopped' is displayed across the screen. The siren can be silenced by pressing a button but there is no doubt that the message has been received (in fact, if the button is pressed, that info is received at HQ) - this finally removed the problem of pilots turning down, or even off, radios because of interference.
Acknowledgement of the report back on the screen of the unit was added - removing the need to send SMS messages (which can be quite costly for both the organiser and the pilot) and this was quickly followed by custom messages to the unit - this has meant we have been able to communicate, in a limited fashion, with pilots who do not have their phone with them - or when the phone battery is flat.
We finally did away with the really annoying task, on registration day, of printing and laminating pilot ID cards by having the necessary information (SMS Report Back Number, Voice Report Back and Retrieve and Safety frequencies, along with the Pilot Number and Name) sent to the units 'over the air' - this means if we change a unit mid-comp (and we do - a lot) - that the info is simply uploaded to the new unit. This is accessed by a single press of the Menu button.
An issue arose in a number of comps where the pilot had run down the takeoff - or, worse, had been driven somewhere - and the flight mode had been triggered. This meant, when he/she stopped, they were prompted to report back (this also ends the flight logging) so we implemented the abiity to reset the unit 'over the air' - this is now handled by FASTRetrieve as long as it is before the start - resetting the unit after the start could afect a pilot's race so this doesn't happen.
Coming soon - but not quite implemented yet - is the ability to send screen layouts to the unit 'over the air'. This will revolutionise the use of these units. Currently pilots are allowed to add custom layouts if they want but these are wiped out at the end of the competition and have to be re-applied at the next comp (probably to a different unit). We will create a place on the PWCA website where pilots can store their screen layout and this will be sent to their unit at the start of the comp - and, if we have to change the unit mid-comp, to the new unit. At the same time we are going to introduce 'over the air' firmware updates - this is more likely to appeal to free flyers (but it will also make Chris very happy since he has to do all 150 units every time the firmware is updated)
So, the position data starts with the Flymaster Live which sends it to Flymaster's servers - where it goes from there is a complex path.
Scoring in the Paragliding World Cup, until very recently, was achieved by downloading a track from a pilot's GPS and using a specialised scoring program to compute the results - similar to the majority of paragliding competitions worldwide. Where the World Cup scoring system (CompCheck) differs is its ability to download multiple units at the same time. In its current configuration CompCheck offers 5 USB channels and 9 other download leads - for older GPS's. All of these can operate at the same moment which reduces queues significantly.
When Live Tracking was introduced into the World Cup, CompCheck also gained the ability to download the Live tracks during the task meaning we are able to produce a Live view of the overall positions (the Live Leaderboard). Originally this was purely an entertainment system since the tracks were not reliable enough to produce scores with confidence BUT, with the introduction of the Live unit, this has changed. CompCheck now checks each track for consistency and, when a pilot returns to HQ, it can indicate whether the downloaded is of sufficient quality to be used for scoring purposes. This means, for the majority of pilots, that the scoring process is complete in less than 5 seconds - they simply plug in their Live, CompCheck instantly identifies the unit and indicates whether the Live track is good - if not the unit can be downloaded as normal or another GPS used instead - but in the majority of cases the Live Score is used. This Live Scoring method was first used in Montalegre, Portugal in 2015 and allowed us to process an 86 seat busload of pilots in under 5 minutes.
CompCheck verifies every aspect of a pilot's track including airspace infringements so we are able to instantly tell a pilot if there is any problem with his/her track at the moment they are scored - pilots always have the option of using their own instruments if they prefer and can download as many tracks as they like - the track which gives the greatest benefit to the pilot is always used for the final result.
Having the scoring system checking the tracks all the way through the task has given rise to another major benefit in the World Cup - the system is able to detect deployment of a reserve parachute and notify the FASTRetrieve system - this then sends an SMS to the meet director and the technical delegate and the situation is flagged in HQ where we can notify the appropriate rescue services that they may be required. The pilot is then contacted, if possible, to assess what action is required.
When the day is over CompCheck outputs the results both on paper and straight to the world cup website - it also outputs all of the IGC files produced during the day and an animation of all the tracks which can be replayed in Google Earth for people who want to analyse how the pilots flew the task. These can be found next to the task name in the results index page.