It’s always the question: when will race event directors be able to initiate live tracking that not only allows fans and families to live-track athletes, but also serve as a draft zone tracking mechanism? Or as a safety beacon?
Sooner than you think; try, tomorrow.
Sunday’s DATEV Challenge Roth will see the introduction of a pilot program of live tracking. The program, quarterbacked by SAS Technologies out of Nurenberg, and will be parlayed with a boosted race-day GPS service partnership on course with T-Mobile in order to ensure no dropped signal service.
“It’s something we’re very excited about and glad to be leading the charge,” Challenge Events president Felix Walchshofer told LAVA. “It’s a test for us this year, but the opportunities in the future, for officiating, for athletes to self-police, for safety, and for engagement of family for loved ones on the course, are massive.”
LAVA spoke with Stefan Sack, Managing Director at SAS Technologies, provider for a unique tracking device, about the logistics of the program. In a service partnership with T-Mobile, Sunday’s race will be tracked live, with GPS data relayed to a course map showing exact locations of pro and select profile athletes on a course map (However, access to the live data will only be provided to media on site, in order to ensure stability of the online server for the trial.) At the moment, the athletes that will be carrying one of the 30 tracking “chips” a key fob-sized unit include key pros and special interest athletes including Rudy Garcia-Tolson and Sister Madonna Buder.
LAVA: Tell me T-Mobile’s role in this trial.
Sack: With 50,000 people on site for an event in a small town, there are always connection problems. So Telekom provides the wireless, not only here on site at the transition areas and the finish venue, but across the course, to ensure strong signals for everyone here, from event operations to family and friends. We are using mobile GPS service just like your phone, so we can’t have a dropped signal. For the GSM mobile device antennas, without them, we cannot do this. This network is going stronger this weekend for the accuracy for the devices to communicate. It’s simple; it sends like a telephone to the next antenna GPS is in our homes, in our cars…. but we are happy to have them help with the accuracy.
We developed the software and created 30 devices. In the future they will be 30 percent the size. They are currently 70 grams which isn’t a big deal, but it’s something we want to get lighter for the sport. They are capable of going to 10 hours right now, but we need them to work a minimum of 12 hours, and in the future, more.
LAVA: I understand the pros will be biking with it, but will they also be running?
Sack: Yes, we have 30 devices, and the important pros will ride with it. We have been working together closely with Timo Bracht, and he will be running with it. If it’s moving on his back and scratching him, he may take it out, but right now he is planning on running with it.
LAVA: So Bracht will be the only one running with it?
Sack: It’s not in the regulation that they run with it… we will see. We hope there are more that run with it.
LAVA: The device records data on GPS technology, correct?
Sack: Yes. The device records every 30 seconds and sends it every minute across the telecom system. We are working to get recording and sending it every 30 seconds. Tracking to get more position isn’t a problem; we can certainly get more recordings and data points….. which will be great for race control things. We can get more information.
LAVA: So this leads to tracking drafting. I’ve spoken with Felix and he said he will be interested to see the data and hopes to use it in the future but for now to even potentially penalize or disqualify an athlete that records data that shows they were, for example, in the draft zone for an excessive cumulative time. But he said he doesn’t want to use it in officiating the race this year, relying upon on-course officials. You say you can pull down the data points. How accurate is it in order to determine whether any given athletes is sitting within a draft zone for at any given time, or a cumulative time, in relation to athletes around?
Sack: GPS technology is evolving fast. It used to be that a signal would bend from 30 to 100 meters; now it’s within two or three meters. With speed, we can measure to within a half a kilometer per hour exactly.
To get more data points and get data that would be accurate enough to consider a drafting infraction, is not a big deal. It’s dependent upon a strong GPS signal, which can be a challenge in the trees with shadows and not getting all the satellites you need, but with a strong signal, it’s very accurate. But for sending this live will take some time. Right now, they have to analyze this after the race. This kind of tracking for regulation reasons is absolutely possible; it can happen. It’s currently going to be on the devices tomorrow, but cannot send instantly. The Challenge officials will be able to analyze this as they wish after the race, however.
You’ve seen with phone apps, anything is possible. You can the course profile, speed. You can do power. For now, we have basic tracking. It’s the way we can keep the device light and small with a small battery. but it’s absolutely possible that we can create a device that collects all this information like speed, power and cadence.
LAVA: We understand there is a component in the unit to contact race resources, namely medical.
Sack: Yes. This button (points at button with Challenge logo atop), if you push it longer than 10 seconds, there’s a vibration on it, and the device sends an email. If you push it twice, for another 10 seconds, another email arrives and you get an emergency call. The first call is just for location, to check if there’s a problem, to see where you are. The second one, they will have your name, your info, and your exact position and can send out medical services.
LAVA: This is the first time you’re doing this in triathlon?
Sack: Yes. We come from motorsports, doing positioning systems for German GT race cars. It’s a German device. There’s a 24-hour race in Belgium next weekend, and we have the system in the cars right now. But it’s not a tracking system, but rather a ranking system; with these 24-hour races on multi-lap courses, with cars coming on and off course, you don’t know who is the leader and who is in last. This allows us to see who is in what position, what place in the race.
LAVA: What is your opinion of the potential of this technology trial?
Sack: It’s huge. We want to get the other data, the pedaling cadence, power, the speed, the heart rate, into the devices, and get it to the age groupers. It’ll be more interesting for television, for the fans, for the families, to know how their athletes are doing. They can know anything about how they are doing, live, from anywhere in the world. It’s a future thing, but it’s in our heads.
LAVA: As this hasn’t been initiated in triathlon to this degree, it it exciting to be on the leading edge of this technology for triathlon?
Sack: Well, for me it’s fun to be doing something different than the German Touring Car Championships for the last 20 years. I’m in Nurenberg, so near to Roth. For me, it’s exciting to see this sport and what they are doing here.
LAVA: How long did it take you to implement this program as soon as you began talking about it?
Sack: Really short; half a year.
LAVA: How did you and Challenge Events come together?
Sack: We found them; we know Challenge here in Bavaria; it’s a huge company. The contact was done from our side.