Grand prize winning device from Jump Run Assist shown above.
A USPA Staff Report
USPA hosted its biennial Skydiving Technology Advancement Roundup (STAR) contest during the 2023 Parachute Industry Association Symposium in Reno, Nevada. Merit, the provider of digital credentials for USPA members, co-sponsored the event, which since 2017 has spotlighted technological innovations in skydiving and supported the developers. The STAR Awards finalists demonstrated their products either live or remotely to symposium attendees and a panel of judges—Merit Vice President of Operations Dylan Avatar, Advanced Aerospace Designs (Vigil) Engineer Luc Beullens and USPA Director of Technology Jen Sharp—at USPA's exhibit booth. The judges assessed each project for its innovation, completeness and potential impact.
On Tuesday, February 28, the first day of presentations began with Arthur Amarra of AON2 Ltd. showcasing his product, Project Obsidian altimeter-display glasses, which allow hands-free access to altitude and other data while skydiving. Amarra appeared in person, allowing the judges to try on two prototypes, a sunglasses version and clear-lensed version.
The day’s following four presenters showed their products remotely. The first of the virtual presenters was Tal Swicegood, who presented his new product, Coach Jump, a real-time app that allows the user to visualize freefall and the effects airflow has on the body in flight. It includes visual dirt-dives and specific tips and tricks to successfully accomplish skydiving goals.
Then, Doug Hendrix presented Jump Run Assist, a device that provides cockpit information—drop zone location, ground speed, direction of flight and suggested exit separation timing—during all phases of the ride to altitude. The display screen (battery powered but rechargeable via USB to the dash) can be mounted near the door so the jumpers first to exit do not need to shout up to the front of the plane to get this information. Some features of the product are customizable by the DZ using it.
Next, Anton Nikitsiuk presented SkydiverPal, an app that includes a customizable and signable logbook, used-equipment price calculator, skydiving blog, wing-loading calculator, weather updates and more.
The Tuesday night presentations wrapped up with Nathan Henry of Henry Engineering showcasing Mobile TCAS, a system that gives aural warnings for impending canopy collisions or near misses. Warnings are sent to the user’s mobile phone, which they can carry on their jump, via a free app. The system is based on time-to-impact calculations (or distance for very close traffic), that alerts only for traffic that warrants immediate attention (so as not to build user dependency), while delivering sufficient time to "see and avoid" when a collision or near miss is imminent.
The STAR Award presentations continued on Wednesday, March 1, with Majed Abouhatab’s remote presentation of his product, Jump MFD, a multi-functional wrist-mounted altimeter that can also function as a remote for sports cameras such as the GoPro. It is wi-fi and Bluetooth enabled and has a touch screen, making the information on the screen accessible to other devices. Future models will have GPS and load-time reminders, and its capabilities can be extended through third-party app development.
Next, appearing on the presentation floor, Jeff Ward of Earthly Dynamics showcased Dropmate. This very small (smaller than a pack of gum!) equipment-tracking device calculates the number of jumps on a piece of equipment, along with the altitude, date and time of each skydive. This eliminates the need to track jump numbers for equipment resale purposes and the data can be used to plan for maintenance such as when a reline is due. Dropmate has gone through beta testing with recreational skydivers and military jumpers and has proven highly accurate. The product also has a 14-year battery life so that it is essentially maintenance free and has the capability to extend its features with app development. It is currently available for sale on the company website.
Ryan Albashian then gave a live presentation of his product, the PaxFast Deployment Bag, a new stowless deployment bag design that relies heavily on the use of magnets. Judges were able to view the technology in person, but because the bag has a patent pending, Albashian could not publicly release in-depth information about the design for this article.
And last but not least, Arnon Yaar made an in-person presentation of his product, Skylander, a digital tool for visualizing landing patterns that allows users to drag points on a map or enter custom data. This 3D visual aid helps students understand the effect of the wind on their patterns and gives them the ability to plan ahead for each jump to land accurately and safely.
The STAR Awards used three criteria to decide on the Grand Prize winner, and Jump Run Assist—the unit that supplies cockpit data in a display by the aircraft door—scored high in all three areas: innovation, completeness and impact. The unit is a low-cost, working solution to address a safety-related concern that affects every jumper, and the judges awarded Doug Hendrix with the $3,000 Grand Prize for his entry.
USPA Director of Technology Jen Sharp (right) presents the honorable mention award to Project Obsidian from Arthur Amarra of AON2 Ltd.
The scores for the top several entries were very close, and in the first-ever tie for Honorable Mention, the judges chose Project Obsidian from Arthur Amarra of AON2 Ltd. and Mobile TCAS from Nathan Henry of Henry Engineering. The People’s Choice Award went to Coach Jump from Tal Swicegood.
Look for more amazing skydiving innovations when the STAR Awards return in 2025 at the PIA Symposium in Daytona, Florida. USPA is planning on making the event bigger and better than ever!