GPS tracking at British and JK 2022
Way back in 2020 we excitedly announce support for the UK Elite Orienteering League to provide GPS tracking at the British Long Distance and JK Championships in 2020 (see here). As we all know, in what seems now like a distant memory, those events never happened, but we carried forward the grant and GPS tracking was delivered at the British and JK in 2022. Read on for a full report from Duncan Birtwistle, coordinator of UKEOL.
Thanks to Orienteering Foundation funding the UK Elite Orienteering League was able to rent 50 GPS trackers from the Scottish Junior Orienteering Squad (ScotJOS) and utilise them at the 2022 British Champs and JK Festival to enhance the event experience of spectators, competitors and officials.
GPS tracking has previously been provided at the Scottish 6 Days and the trackers themselves used by ScotJOS for training, but this was the first time GPS has been provided at British Orienteering’s flagship events. It brings a big-race feel to the races, gets younger athletes comfortable with being tracked, whilst providing instant feedback to competitors and planners. The trackers are small devices about the size of a bar of soap that sit on athletes back in a specially designed vest. They have a GPS receiver and a mobile SIM that transfers the location over 2/3G internet to the Loggator system in the cloud. Once the final starter has started their race, the map, course and locations of the competitors can be viewed on the Loggator website. The British Championships at Golden Valley in Hampshire in March were the League’s first deployment with event assistance from Simon Errington (Happy Herts) and SLOW helpers.
Behind the scenes
The trackers were charged in the days before the event. The charging banks (multiple 10-socket extension leads with an individual charger per tracker) are actually the most bulky part of the system. However, if the trackers are charged fully at home before use, then only the trackers and vests need to be taken to the event (they fit in a large rucksack) meaning the on-site equipment is light.
Trackers need matching to individual competitors within the Loggator system. This took a little time extracting startlists and reformatting them to suit Loggator, but was accelerated with some Excel formulas. The workload would be reduced in future if athletes were allocated a certain tracker for the whole season so only the start-time needed editing between events.
The most technical part of delivering GPS tracking is uploading the map and courses as georeferenced KMZ files to Loggator, which should only be done by those who have permission to see the courses. The process we used was to export the courses from PurplePen or Condes to OCAD format and then export to KMZ from OCAD. The documentation requests WSG84 geo-referencing but we found British National Grid referenced maps to work without manipulation.
On competition days volunteers took a little space at enquiries to hand out trackers and vests, signing them in and out on a printed sheet. Due to limited volunteer resources at the JK Festival in Wales we had originally not planned to attempt tracking there. However, after realising at the British that limited on-the-day effort was required, and gaining support from the JK planners/controllers we managed to deliver tracking at the Middle and Long. The trackers have 6-7 hours battery life so did not need charging overnight. We did wash all the smelly vests though!
On the screens
A big screen was not provided at events with spectators encouraged to view tracking on their mobiles via links shared on results pages, UK Elite League website and social media. In future we would set up a redirect from ukeliteoleague.org.uk/live to the less memorable https://loggator.com/users/69/events. Big screens in the arenas could have been used to make it easier for casual spectators to engage - but the most interested parents and friends will want to watch specific athletes, at certain times, on certain course, who can be more easily followed on personal phones - on a big screen the director may only highlight the fastest athletes on a single course at a time. For this first year it was decided much of the benefit could be gained without the expense and hassle of a public display. You can find example links from BOC W21E and M21E (which athletes and spectators may use for historical analysis after the event).
Overall the tracking was a big success with over 400 page views at the British and 1000 at the JK. We have spread technical knowledge of how to deliver tracking from Scotland into England whilst also picking up some little human tips like setting a time window for tracker collection for example. Simple improvements in the future would be focused on raising awareness of the tracking link on the day of the races and better integration with commentary. The ScotJOS trackers’ home is Royal Deeside whilst future major events will be across the country - arranging couriering when necessary is some hassle but if it enables more tracker use then it is certainly beneficial - further discussions with ScotJOS are therefore needed. Engagement is also required with Loggator to resolve if tracking will still work after 3G mobile networks are switched off in 2023.
Thank you to the Orienteering Foundation, ScotJOS and all the volunteers at each race for being part of an exciting project.