Star Awards Culminate at PIA
By USPA Director of Information Technology Jen Sharp
Monday, April 1, 2019
In an effort to encourage technological innovation that advances skydiving, USPA and Sigma, a global platform for verified identity, co-hosted the Skydiving Technology Advancement Roundup (STAR) competition. Following a six-month online submission period, nine finalists exhibited their innovations during the Parachute Industry Association Symposium in Dallas, Texas, February 4-7. From those nine, three winners walked away with cash, while all the finalists, as well as the audience, walked away with the excitement that comes from seeing dreams put into action. But it’s the average skydiver who is the ultimate winner.
The collaborative effort presented an opportunity for those who manufacture, design, engineer or promote technology products in the skydiving field to spotlight their new tech ideas. Symposium attendees and judges watched the presenters’ 20-minute demos and product explanations each afternoon in the exhibit hall, with one category—drop zone tools, jumper experience or safety and training—featured each day. At the conclusion of each day’s demo, the judges announced the winner for that category. In addition, the People’s Choice and Sigma’s Choice Awards presentations took place at the end of the final day.
The judging panel consisted of Betsy Hoats-Smith, D-23089, a master rigger and loft manager for Para-Gear Equipment Company, chair of PIA’s Meeting Logistics Committee and co-chair of PIA’s Technical Committee; Jacob Orrin, USPA #311927, founder and president of Sigma; and USPA Director of Information Technology Jen Sharp, D-17516, an AFF instructor, coach examiner and tandem instructor examiner and master rigger. Among the judging criteria were:
- Innovation: How unique or new is the concept? Is this a new way to solve something or just another version of something that is already in the market?
- Completion and functionality: Does the submission work as described? Is the product free of bugs with all parts complete?
- Impact: Will this solution be widely usable by the greater community?
Drop Zone Tools
On Tuesday, February 5, the drop zone tools category featured tools or services specifically designed to aid in the operation of drop zone facilities.
Earning a $1,500 prize, the winner was the jump-planning tool Big Picture (dropzones.spotassist.com) created by Andrey Kan of Spot Assist. This web application, which runs in a browser, broadcasts through AppleTV, GoogleCast or a cabled computer to a TV in front of manifest or any place visible to skydivers. In addition, skydivers can download an app to see and manipulate Big Picture on their phones or tablets. Big Picture uses winds-aloft data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to display current winds at different altitudes at the selected location. Using calculations configured from user settings such as canopy size, the tool displays an interactive graphic of the current optimal exit area and landing pattern. This gives skydivers heading for the plane an instant picture of current weather conditions from which they can make educated decisions. While the free app is a useful tool for individuals, the paid admin account provides additional worthwhile features, letting busy DZ operators “set it and forget it.” Drop zones can control what their jumpers see, including overriding landing patterns, patterns using only north or south corridors or shifting altitudes for pattern legs. A future feature includes the addition of no-fly zones.
The two other finalists in the drop zone tools category were GearPro by Jody Moore and Revl X Video System by Eric Sanchez.
Moore’s GearPro (jodymoore.github.io/gearpro-dz/) featured a fast-loading, dynamic system for drop zone or rigging loft staff to track everything gear related. The winner of the Sigma’s Choice Award and a $500 prize, GearPro features the ability to track main pack jobs and who packed them, 25-jump inspection times for tandem gear, pay due to packers and riggers, maintenance requirements or specifications, as well as repack cycles. Due to its multi-level user system for packers, staff and admin, as well as its responsiveness on different devices, GearPro is sure to be a hit for a wide audience.
While the crux of Revl X (revlx.co) is an all-inclusive system that uses artificial intelligence to edit tandem jump videos, it is packed with other features that support tandem customers from the time they walk through the door to weeks beyond their jumps. Drop zones purchase the high-tech compact action cameras (that take both stills and video in one unit) and editing system, which virtually eliminate the need for an employee to edit videos. Customers can choose to receive delivery of their videos by email or in a video booklet (a book with a video screen). Automated marketing and post-sales features allow drop zones to continue to sell packages long after their students have left the drop zone.
On Wednesday, February 6, the jumper experience category featured technology that specifically serves the individual jumper.
The winner of this category and the $1,500 cash prize was Freefall Data Systems’ ColorAlti (freefalldatasystems.com) by Casey Mongoven. This barometric-pressure-based, peripheral-vision skydiving altimeter and vertical-descent-speed indicator utilizes color to indicate a person’s current altitude or vertical descent rate. Using the accompanying mobile app, the user can highly customize their experience. For example, by creating a profile, a jumper can set their chosen colors to change at their chosen altitudes based on the type of jump they are doing. A jumper could create a profile for tandem with one set of colors and altitudes and another profile for canopy piloting. The change of color occurs either continuously or abruptly based on the user’s settings. There are units for open-face or full-face helmets. ColorAlti not only enhances the jumper’s experience during freefall, but also acts as a jump log and freefall data analyzer.
The two other finalists were the Rhythm Skydiving 401 app by Steven Lefkowitz and Spacesuit Skydive by Trent Tresch.
Rhythm Skydiving 401 (rhythmskydiving.com/resources/rhythm-apps), created by 4-way formation skydiving team SDC Rhythm XP, is useful for 4-way enthusiasts at any level. The mobile app is replete with features, including more than 200 videos demonstrating block technique and exits, a dive timer, a dive generator, articles, flash cards, continuity plans and detailed pictures. The free version of the app contains enough to whet your appetite to see if the $100 annual subscription fits your needs.
The People’s Choice Award winner, Spacesuit Skydive (spacesuitskydive.wordpress.com), presented a working high-altitude skydiving pressure suit for the average jumper that costs less than $10,000. This sneak peek of the future emerged as the popular choice by attendees who voted for their favorite finalist during the three-day contest. Trent Tresch at Earth & Space Exploration teamed up with Pacific Spaceflight to develop this suit, which operates at a standard 3.5 psi on 100 percent oxygen with leak rates of the suits used for NASA’s Apollo mission.
Safety and Training
Thursday’s demos featured the safety and training category for technology that improves the sport’s or an individual’s safety.
The winner, Freefall Club’s SkydiVR (skydivr.io) by Ronnie Hughan, provides realistic parachute-flight simulation to complement existing tools and techniques for teaching canopy navigation. Students and licensed skydivers alike can prepare canopy flights at built-in drop zone locations or anywhere in the world. While the most realistic simulation includes toggles and a hanging harness, jumpers can use it sitting in a chair with just a virtual-reality headset and a small controller. Students can fly with instructors or take advantage of tutorials on demand. Customizable features include selecting student or pro canopies, setting wind speed and direction, adjusting opening point and replaying your jump with FlySight. You can even fly with friends live from across the globe, fly with robots or fly in competition.
The two other finalists in safety and training were AUV School of Skydiving and Bodyflight’s Online Training Program by Enming Zhang and the Situational Awareness System by Gilad Pinhas.
At first glance, AUV’s Online Training Program (course.auvskydiving.com) appears to be a well-organized Chinese version of a first-jump course and a training resource for USPA licenses. However, it is actually a platform to build and share training modules that includes support for those who speak Chinese, English or Russian. Schools or companies using the platform can build and share modules with full control over access, including an upcoming feature that will allow users to charge for courses.
Triple-S (Smart Skydiving Solutions) is an Israeli startup developing a solution for keeping skydivers safe during landings. Their solution, SAS-Situational Awareness System (firstname.lastname@example.org), uses photogrammetric technology (perimeter cameras that can identify objects and movement), artificial intelligence and machine learning that identifies the positioning of skydivers in the landing zone, provides data analysis for training purposes and gives real-time alerts to a drop zone or individuals. Drop zones may soon be able to identify near-miss canopy collisions that often go unnoticed or unreported. Manifest or individual skydivers can use the product on both desktop and mobile platforms.
Overall, this first year of championing technology development in the skydiving industry was such a success that USPA and Sigma plan to hold the contest again in conjunction with the next PIA Symposium in the U.S. Submissions will open around July 2020, so watch for your next opportunity to showcase your great ideas and gain attention from potential investors, as well as compete for prize money courtesy of Sigma!