Radio Online Controls – The Mourne MM Experience
At this year’s Mourne Mountain Marathon we trialled a new system of radio controls that provided live feeds from 2x Control boxes around the course and back to the finish computers.
The system uses cheap and readily available components to interface with a standard SPORTident Master (download) station to collect the punches and send them via 3G mobile signal over the internet to the SI Timing™ software on the laptops. SI Timing™ displays the punches as safety data or on a Commentary screen for finishers to view. (SI Timing™ is the new version of Autodownload™)
Each ROC (Radio Online Control) comprises:
- SI USB Download station (configured as a Control)
- Raspberry Pi microcomputer
- 10Ahr USB rechargeable battery pack
- 3G MiFi Dongle
- 20cm x 12cm Tupperware box to house the kit
The station connects over 3G via the internet to a server in Sweden which collates the punch data from many events each day. The SI Timing software now on our laptops collects this data from the server and presents it on screens in various formats.
Once the initial build and configuration of a ROC is done, the actual deployment at any event is very straightforward and is just 5 simple steps:
- Replace your normal control with the USB wired “Download” station
- Plug the USB into the RPi
- Turn on the MiFi dongle and check for good 3G signal
- Plug RPi into the USB Battery pack
- Wait 2 minutes and then use your smartphone to check the online sever is getting the data
Before the event you have to make sure that that all the batteries are charged and that the Download station is reprogrammed as a Control. If the systems fails due to, say, the 3G signal being weak or the battery dying, the Control Box has its own battery and continues to act as a punching control so there is no risk to the race results.
How did it work?
In practice we found that the system worked better than expected.
On Day 1 we had two stations signalling back; the first from the manned checkpoint about half way round the courses and the second from one of a cluster of controls up on Slieve Binnian above the finish camp site. The early control was of limited value although it was good to be able to confirm to the marshals that everyone was through their checkpoint.
The 2nd control on the cluster proved to be invaluable especially later in the day as we started to wonder where the straggling teams where. As darkness fell it was good to know that the last 3 teams had made it that far and where, therefore, likely to be making their way down the mountainside towards us.
On Day 2 a similarly placed late control on the edge of Donard Park provided great entertainment value as spectators could see when their competition or loved ones had hit this “outer marker” and were on the home straight. Cameras and cheers were at the ready. The commentary screen showed live team position and time gap from the leaders at that point which made for some tense moments at the finish line.
For the organisers it again gave us a means to cross check our finishers for any who might have gone astray in the last mile. This proved to be the case for a couple of very late teams.
The whole kit costs about £75 (excluding the SI Download Station) plus £5 of 3G data to run on the day. The use of the online Server is free to us however we did make a PayPal donation to the website for its upkeep.
The ROC system has been created by a team of Swedish orienteers – Oskar Berg and Erik Berg who developed the Raspberry Pi software and kit and Christoffer Ohlsson and Bo Karlsson who seem to be responsible for providing the hosting server – http://roc.olresultat.se
ROC punch data is directly support in the SI Timing™ software available from SPORTident UK™
Please note that the ROC hardware and system are not provided or directly supported by SPORTident UK™ and they may charge for any support or advice requested in relation to this equipment. Similarly the author is not in a position to offer advice or support beyond what has been shared in this document. Please refer to other guides and information sources online to learn more about the various components of the ROC system.
Mark Pruzina September 2017