Faster touchless punching at NZOC 2018
With the adoption of SI Air by WOC and JWOC, national orienteering bodies are moving to ‘mixed punching’ to provide their athletes an opportunity to become familiar with this new technology and benefit from it. In 2017 both the British Orienteering Championships and the Australian Orienteering Championships were conducted using mixed punching. ONZ has endorsed the use of mixed punching at this year’s New Zealand Orienteering Championship in Easter.
So what is mixed punching? You are all familiar with the current style of SPORTident ‘stick’ carried on your finger. There have been a number of iterations of this ‘classic’ style, from SI-card 5 (having sufficient memory to hold 30 punches and with a punching time of 0.33 secs) up to SI-Card 11 (holding 128 punches and with a punching time of 0.06 secs). SI Air is the latest evolution of this technology. Instead of bumbling around, trying to get your rectangular SI-stick quickly into a round hole in the control unit until the familiar beep sounds, you can now simply swipe your SI-stick above the unit. This is made possible by the latest SPORTident Active Card or SIAC.
Despite the stick having the same appearance, holding capacity and download time as the SI-card 11, there is one distinct difference: data transfer occurs without even touching the control station. This is the reason that the SIAC is also called “Air+”. You can potentially save a second or two or even three at every control! The SIAC has a small battery inside to give the competitor both visual and acoustic feedback that your attendance at the control has been electronically noted. The IOF has approved Air+ for Foot-O and MTBO. Hence, the era of contactless control punching or SI Air+, has arrived! And if you do not have your own, SIACs will be available for a small hire fee at the New Zealand Orienteering Championship through the entry system (if you missed adding SIAC hire when you entered, you can add it to your entry at a later date).
The control stations sitting atop the control stand remain the same and can process either classic or active battery powered Air+ cards during an event – hence the term ‘mixed punching’. The classic punching process involves:
- the competitor placing their SI stick into the hole in the control unit,
- the unit reading the competitor’s stick, and finally
- the unit writing that control’s code number and time of day onto the competitor’s stick.
However, with the SIAC, the same control station can be put into beacon mode and transmit its own unique identification code plus the time of day up through the air to the SIAC card which is actually a radio receiver. This will occur spontaneously for any SIAC that comes within 50cm of the control unit.
What does the competitor have to do differently when using a SIAC? Unlike the classic stick, at every event a SIAC battery check is your first task, and is best done at the event centre rather than up at the Start. Then you know the status of your stick and whether you will need to do the day’s course in Air+ mode or in the default classic punch-in-the-hole mode. Second, your SIAC will have to be turned on. Once you are at the Start and ‘Cleared’, the Air+ mode will automatically turn itself ‘on’ as part of the CHECK-process. At the same time your SIAC number is captured by the Check unit itself so organisers know you are about to go out on your course. Lastly, at the end of the event, the Air+ mode will automatically switch itself ‘off’ at the FINISH-punch. These Check/Finish on/off features have been designed to minimise drain on the SIAC‘s battery. Naturally, you must still go the Download station in the Finish Tent.
Some questions you may have?
- How close to the control unit does the competitor have to be? For example, can you register your attendance at a control placed at the base of a rock face when you are standing on the top of the rock face, or, when standing on the wrong side of an uncrossable fence?
No. The organisers can control the active range of every individual control unit so the competitor has to be adjacent to the control station.
- What if the battery inside the SIAC dies?
The stick instantly reverts to classic mode. You will know this has happened because the end of your Air+ stick no longer flashes nor sounds a beep. The estimated battery life is about 4 years if it is used at about 40 events per year, and the battery can be replaced by a qualified service agent.
- Can anything interfere with the data transfer mid-air?
Perhaps. GPS-capable devices including GPS watches have an antenna and on some devices this can significantly reduce the sensitivity of the SIAC and interfere with its operation. Hence, wear or place your GPS device on the opposite side to the hand carrying the SIAC.
Is mixed punching fair?
Well, those of us with the cute old red SI-stick have been losing over ¼ sec at every control already. Why don’t we upgrade? Maybe we know we could just run/walk a bit faster? Maybe spending money on new O-shoes or a faster compass or a magnifying glass may gain more time than any SI-stick purchase would gain? However if you are counting seconds, and perhaps this applies specially to the sprint distance, the second or two made up at every control when using a SIAC will make a difference and give the owner a competitive advantage. It is your call. Not having to fumble around at the control unit, particularly if it is crowded, might be a blessing in itself, and in this regard everyone benefits, as the more people who use SIAC the less congestion there will be at controls.
Back to the question whether mixed punching is fair. Many sports are conducted with different competitors having an advantage because they invested more in the equipment for their sport. The organising committee for the New Zealand Orienteering Championship 2018 in consultation with ONZ has decided that with the announcement of mixed punching in the Invitation/Bulletin 1, plus the availability of hire SIACs when entering, every competitor will have had a relatively inexpensive way of acquiring a SIAC for the Championship. Along with the promotions via other media, we believe there is sufficient time for any competitor to avail themselves of a SIAC one way or another if they want one. There will be ample SIACs for hire.
To help competitors get their head around the system, the organisers will have a ‘SIAC demonstration micro-course’ with battery-check, Clear/Check controls, a couple of on-the-course controls plus a Finish control available at the Carnival early on each day. That way you can do a dummy run and be confident the system will work for you during the real events. Details of the SIAC demonstration micro-course will be in the Bulletin.
To see how SIAC works, can look at these two short YouTube videos:
- “SIAC how to use” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXcNO-C94pg and
- “Make orienteering faster” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzXaAVGXHIc
Any inquiries, please email Alison Comer on firstname.lastname@example.org
New Zealand Orienteering Championship