Never Miss a Flag | The Flagger System Makes Pro-Quality Race Control Accessible to Clubs and Could Save a Life

Sponsored Content Presented by Flagger.

She told me, ‘I’m 100% certain I’d have hit that car if I didn’t have the Flagger system in my car.’ That right there kind of told me that what we were doing was a good idea.” That’s Matt Eastling, CEO and co-founder of the Flagger In-Car Alert System, relating the story of someone’s experience with his system. 

At its simplest, Flagger is an electronic flagging system. Drivers install a small LCD screen tied to an integral communication module, battery pack and onboard accelerometer—the whole thing is about the size of a pager but a little thicker. That module relays the flags from the corner stations to the cockpit. 

Eastling is serious about safety: “I showed up to one of my first HPDE days in basically full gear. It felt a little weird looking around and seeing everyone else in street clothes, but I don’t think anyone should ever have to feel weird for being overly cautious.” 

Hence Flagger. Eastling is quick to talk about the safety aspects of the system, although it’s really much more than an in-car flag indicator. But we’ll talk about that more in a minute. 

There’s going to be times when you might not be able to get your eyes to a flag station as quick as you’d like,” Eastling says. “I race a Spec E46, and those cars are tall, and big, and we’re always right on top of each other. Sometimes the first glimpse you get of a flag could be through someone else’s windshield. 

I had an idea for a system that would give drivers instant info, in the car, about what flags were present in what locations. That was a few years ago, and the system you see now came from those ideas.”

Eastling continues about the Flagger system: “And not just for drivers. Those workers out there at every corner are facing some of the most danger of anyone on a hot track. If we can come up with a system to keep them safer and let them do their jobs with more confidence, which in turn keeps the drivers even safer, it’s win-win.” 

American Endurance Racing has already adopted Flagger. 

The system is highly tunable by race control stewards to provide drivers with as much or as little supplemental information as stewards deem necessary. The hardware of the system consists of the in-car display units placed in each on-track vehicle; a small laptop, monitor and transmitter/receiver device at race control; and handheld units at each corner station. The entire system is linked by its own RF network and requires no outside network infrastructure to run properly. 

Race stewards can define the operational area for each corner using GPS coordinates, and any in-car receiver entering that operational area will display flag data from only that area. Once the car has cleared the area defined by the stewards, the display will clear itself. 

In addition to local flags sent from the handheld units at corner stations, the race control station can also broadcast full-course, local or even single-car advisories—particularly useful in situations where a driver’s transponder may not be working or a mechanical issue with a car requires a single driver to pit. 

Beyond the real-time communication functionality, Flagger also logs all events triggered by either the stations or by race control. It also allows race control to insert notes or comments, whether general or regarding any specific events. 

This is where Flagger moves beyond a mere real-time in-car flagging indicator and becomes a powerful race management suite. Having a single-location digital record of the control aspects of a race will be invaluable for both small clubs with limited staffs and large clubs hosting high-profile events that need a deep well of on-track accountability.

We also mentioned that the in-car units feature accelerometers, and these are present as an additional safety measure. Any deviation outside normal operation—sudden massive g-loads (as would be present in a collision), sudden changes in orientation (as would be present in a spin or, heaven forbid, a rollover), or unexpected stoppages due to mechanical failure—are instantly alerted to race control. This could notify the race director in the control tower of a red-flag-necessary condition before they even get the radio call from a corner station.

Additional functions are being added to and developed for Flagger as well. Aside from simply being able to relay on-track flag info, Flagger also has the ability to direct groups or specific cars to specific locations, like impound or the post-race scales. It’s powerful to be able to communicate directly with every driver regardless of weather, ambient noise, or line-of-sight issues.


For drivers, $250 gets you the hardware unit and communication; software and hardware support then costs $75 for the first year and $100 per year after that. The annual fee covers all future updates and firmware functionality upgrades, along with a no-questions-asked hardware support program.

Now it comes down to adoption: Unless clubs and drivers fully adopt the system and equip every car and corner station, it’s not going to work to its potential. 

But the system is so clever, so intuitive to use and so effective that we foresee a lot of clubs jumping on board. As we mentioned, AER is already fully integrating the system into its races for 2021, and Eastling is doing demos in the near future with Lemons, #Gridlife, several SCCA and NASA regions, and a few marque clubs and tracks that run their own track days. 

We think it won't be long until most cars on track will have one of these tiny digital corner workers riding shotgun, keeping their drivers better informed than ever before.

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Comments
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jfryjfry (FS)
jfryjfry (FS) Dork
1/6/21 7:23 a.m.

Is the subscription mandatory for the units to work?

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
1/6/21 8:55 a.m.

Yes, I'm pretty sure it is.

BA5
BA5 Reader
1/6/21 9:27 a.m.

The idea is really good, but that subscription ask is a bit out there.

On one hand, I work at a company that offers software, so I get that it requires ongoing support.

On the other hand, he's gotta look at what he's asking for: he wants to increase the annual racing costs of EVERYONE who races by $100 every year.  That's a BIG ask.

I'm trying to think of what similar automotive products require a subscription service.  My transponder doesn't.  I don't think most stand alone engine managements do (maybe the high end ones like MOTEC?). Radios?  Even a lot of the entry level suspension and engine design software is a one time purchase price.

Finally, what value am I really getting from that subscription?  I could see the subscription for the trackside equipment, since that looks like a more extensive setup with an acutal software interface.  But for me the racer it looks like I'm getting a box that gets information relayed to it that it then displays.  That's doesn't really scream 'equipment that you need to be paying a maintenance subscription for'.

wvumtnbkr
wvumtnbkr PowerDork
1/6/21 9:44 a.m.

Cool.  I didn't know there was another company doing this.

 

Champcar is going to use flagtronics which is similar, and MAY not have subscription costs.

APEowner
APEowner Dork
1/6/21 9:56 a.m.

I have mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand the current flag system is seriously outdated and has some serious weaknesses. On the other I hate the subscription model, I'm not crazy about requiring another expense for racers and my (admittedly limited) experience so far with in car notification systems has shown that racers will miss those as well.

With today's technology, if one were to start from scratch to design a race car driver notification system the suggestion to scatter workers around the track and give them flags would likely be laughed at.  Flag stations can be hard to see in the heat of battle and no matter how observant you are sight lines always limit their visibility.  Usually in the areas where the flags are most needed.  I love the idea of eliminating the gray area between flag stands.  The whole don't start racing again until you reach the next station that's not displaying the yellow is extremely subjective and since I tend to interpret that on the cautious side I often loose ground in those situations.

I hate the subscription model.  I know that it's becoming the norm for anything with software but I still don't like it. 

Some drivers are going to miss notifications no matter how they're presented.  I once watched a dirt track guy run multiple laps with the 2" diameter, bright red, low oil pressure light illuminated on his dash and claim he never saw it.  I could see it from the stands!

Finding a place to mount that in my Formula Ford would be a challenge.  I'd have to choose between that and the DAC system. 

If one of the racing series that I run with once a year adopts this system I might choose to just not run with them.  Between the cost of the system, subscription cost and the need to figure out where and how to mount it I might just find another way to spend my time and money.

Thinking about this, I'd be more enthusiastic if this system were integrated with timing and scoring.

I suspect that this system, or something like it will eventually come to one or more of the sanctioning bodies that I race with and that it will be an improvement over the outdated flag system.  When that happens I'll pry open my wallet and rearrange the dash in my race car but I'm going to complain about it.

bmw88rider (Forum Supporter)
bmw88rider (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
1/6/21 10:10 a.m.

As a marshal, I love seeing more and more technology like this entering into the racing scene. I also wish there were more fixed LED "Flag" panels at the race tracks in a consistent location for better visibility.

Anything that helps us be safer on track especially with the club racing where we have to do more than the pro events is a god send and very much welcomed. 

I don't agree with the subscription fee either. I could see a $20 annual just to keep money inflow and drive future development for the receiver. $100 is a little much for something that would only need maybe an over the air update once a quarter or so. 

Tom1200
Tom1200 SuperDork
1/6/21 10:21 a.m.

So because 5-10% of drivers have red mist and or blinders on and miss flags the rest of us have to spend $250 plus $100 a year?  If you can't drive and use your brain, should you really be on track?

I'm of two mind on this; if I the ADD poster kid can drive and process information then surely everyone else can but I also know that people are wired differently so not all drivers can drive and process information. 

Where exactly do I mount this in my formula car? The system seems geared towards sedans.

As for the cost; even for someone like me who does 2 races a year, the subscription works out to $50 a race. That's not going to make or break my budget given I'm spending $750-$1000 a weekend.

This is a clever tool and I can see how it would help some drivers. While I use the corner workers as a tool, I'm cognizant that not everyone can do this and so this system would help them.

 

 

 

spacecadet (Forum Supporter)
spacecadet (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
1/6/21 10:31 a.m.

I believe the $100 subscription pushes the limits of what people are willing to put up with.

This is $25 more a year than a mylaps subscription.

Within the costs of tracking a car, this is going to be a low level line item in the budget.. but it's still an item.

Since iRacing essentially has this built in and I find a lot of value in it from that, I am in support of the product. But the long term subscription model is very annoying to me, and I will push back against this COMPANY and their business model until they make changes to their subscription model. 

Tom1200
Tom1200 SuperDork
1/6/21 11:16 a.m.

Note I'm not trying to be a wet blanket/dik on this but since I make people justify the use of products and services for a living:

Please show me documented proof that this product increases safety over the existing system. While I may think it's clever and on the surface would appear to be a step up from our current system, I still want to see evidence that it increases safety and or reduces accidents.

When I say documented I don't mean testimonials of "this totally saved me from crashing" I mean actual year on year data.

As an example; there are roughly 8000 SCCA club racers, so if I mandate this you are going to see 2 million in sales plus  $800,000 annual in recurring revenue. Over a 5 year period you are going to see 6 million dollars in revenue.

If I'm signing off on 6 million I want hard data / proof and it will need to be a significant.

 

RadBarchetta
RadBarchetta New Reader
1/6/21 11:35 a.m.

The subscription model is going to stop a lot of people from buying into this. However, if a club were to rent or loan them out like they do transponders, it'll go a long way towards faster adoption. Surely a club could get a bulk rate on the subscription and pass the savings along to the drivers.

Matt Eastling
Matt Eastling None
1/6/21 12:43 p.m.

I am the CEO of Flagger In-Car Alert System and Thank You to everyone for your thoughts and comments. After reading all the comments, it's clear the biggest concern is our service plan fee. Our focus is to provide an alert system that is affordable for the person that is saving every penny to get out on track. We feel a service plan is the best approach to keep the initial purchase of the in-car Flagger device affordable. We even make the in-car Flagger work for free for 30 days after arriving to the track and receiving it's first flag, so that person who's really scraping by can spread out the purchase of the device and the initial service plan payment. The service plan also helps to make sure we are around year after year to service people's devices and make sure they have a good working Flagger device in their car every time they go out on track. 

Please feel free to reach out to me at Matt@NeverMissAFlag.com if you have additional comments or questions or want to talk about scheduling us to come to one of your events and let you try it out for yourself.

Thanks! 

Tom1200
Tom1200 SuperDork
1/6/21 1:37 p.m.

Matt thanks for jumping in with the answer on the subscription rate.

So as a PIA purchasing analyst It's professional curiosity but do you guys have data yet on the reduction of incidents be they crashes or fewer missed flags?

pinchvalve (Forum Supporter)
pinchvalve (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
1/6/21 1:41 p.m.

Miss a flag? Not me. (turning red with shame)

Rons
Rons Reader
1/6/21 1:45 p.m.

Another point to consider and this is a generalization the worker group is aging and shrinking, and technology may be required to make up the shortfall. Many may not recognize this fact but it is becoming real in the US northwest 2021 calendars  there is a date conflict between SCCA and ICSCC. If the US Canada border remains closed which is likely concerns have been expressed about the about the ability of the worker pool to cover both events.

spacecadet (Forum Supporter)
spacecadet (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
1/6/21 2:21 p.m.
Matt Eastling said:

I am the CEO of Flagger In-Car Alert System and Thank You to everyone for your thoughts and comments. After reading all the comments, it's clear the biggest concern is our service plan fee. Our focus is to provide an alert system that is affordable for the person that is saving every penny to get out on track. We feel a service plan is the best approach to keep the initial purchase of the in-car Flagger device affordable. We even make the in-car Flagger work for free for 30 days after arriving to the track and receiving it's first flag, so that person who's really scraping by can spread out the purchase of the device and the initial service plan payment. The service plan also helps to make sure we are around year after year to service people's devices and make sure they have a good working Flagger device in their car every time they go out on track. 

Please feel free to reach out to me at Matt@NeverMissAFlag.com if you have additional comments or questions or want to talk about scheduling us to come to one of your events and let you try it out for yourself.

Thanks! 

I just want to say thank you to you guys for being willing to step up and talk to us random loud voices on the internet.

I waste a lot more than $100 a year on stuff I don't need, but I do still think your pricing model is a bit steep, but I agree with the need for subscription to keep this system evolving over time.

frenchyd
frenchyd PowerDork
1/6/21 4:34 p.m.

In reply to spacecadet (Forum Supporter) :

My problem with the whole concept is the moment to look inside your car to check on flags when your whole attention needs to be outside focusing on what's happening on track. 
  Normally I can see issues developing and mentally have the flags waving long before the corner workers can push a button or wave their flag. Because of that in more than 50 years I had one trivial accident.  
I happen to agree that corner workers are at risk and need protection. Let's go the next step, heads up display.  Don't expect a driver to change focus to see if a flag is being waved. Project it on the windshield. We can see right through heads up display and so react accordingly to what is developing.  Rather than glance at a screen then check on what's happening on track. 

spacecadet (Forum Supporter)
spacecadet (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
1/6/21 4:48 p.m.

In reply to frenchyd :

I think you're discounting where the device is going to be located. It's not on the dash low, it's up in your FOV.



 

frenchyd
frenchyd PowerDork
1/6/21 5:10 p.m.

In reply to spacecadet (Forum Supporter) :

If it's in line of sight, it's obstructing vision. Some cars that loss won't affect things others it will. 

dean1484
dean1484 MegaDork
1/6/21 6:12 p.m.

Everything is going subscription these days.  As a business owner I have canceled or stopped using any and all products that require a monthly subscription.  It is a great business model for the person getting the $$ as it makes cashflow easier to manage and predict but from the consumer side (a business) these things drain you.  It is like they are trying to kill my business by a thousand pin pricks.  I hate it and don't support any subscription type service.  (cough couch Iracing cough cough).  As soon as I saw the subscription required I was out on this. 

The next thing you know we will be paying a subscription for the use of toilet paper.  I can see a future where you are purchasing the roll and putting it in a dispenser that is internet connected that then automatically charges your credit card a per sheet fee as you pull it out of he dispenser.

The world of subscription fees I equate as another form of micro transaction.  These are usually used by company that have a product that they can not really justify the cost they want to get for it so they hid it  using micro transactions.

I will leave this with this:  Many years ago one of my mentors in business told me that watching the big transactions is easy.  What will bring a company down is failing to watch all the little transactions as each one by its self is easily dismissed as "no big deal" however at the end of a year all these little transactions can easily be the difference between being in the Red or the Black.  As he put it successful people never stop watching the nickles.

itsarebuild
itsarebuild Dork
1/6/21 6:13 p.m.

In reply to frenchyd :

I get you point in vision, but we all check (or should) our gauges and mirrors periodically so we do look at stuff in the cockpit. I personally see a good bit of my hood when driving and wouldn't mind a little help seeing flag conditions in my line of sight in the car to help out.

 

I do agree with the pack though, the subscription rate is steep for me. 

newrider3
newrider3 Reader
1/6/21 6:17 p.m.

It's not that the $100 per year subscription is a killer expense (it's a small one in a season of racing after all) it's the fact you're tied into the subscription forever. I'd rather pay more for the hardware up front and actually own it.

dean1484
dean1484 MegaDork
1/6/21 6:22 p.m.

Looking at this and applying the KISS principal.  Why cant you just put a small box on the dash right in front of you with a big green, yellow and a red light (similar to a oil pressure light or a tach light).  Transmit a signal and all the box's in all the cars display the selected colored light that represents a flag condition.  Green track is clear, Yellow = Yellow flag and red is a red flag return to pit flashing red is stop on track.  the transmitter would be a little bit expensive and need FCC approval but the receivers would cost almost nothing.

The system they are promoting looks cool and may be something that higher levels of racing could use but I think a much simpler system is needed for the average open track practice or HPDE event.  What I have described above would be exceedingly cheep to make and could be purchased by a club for use by its members.  Flag stations call in the "event" control triggers the lights in the cars.  

Tom1200
Tom1200 SuperDork
1/6/21 10:08 p.m.

I really am a pain in ass. I still want to know the difference between our current method and this system. 

codrus (Forum Supporter)
codrus (Forum Supporter) UberDork
1/6/21 11:25 p.m.
Tom1200 said:

I really am a pain in ass. I still want to know the difference between our current method and this system. 

Well, if it's like other forms of motorsport that have used in-car flag display (F1, say) it's a supplement to the physical flags rather than a replacement.  If you've got all the same flags that you used to, PLUS a display/alert (with sound?) in the car, then that's better at providing notification to the driver.  I can see it being adopted by club racing organizations fairly easily -- if SCCA or NASA says you have to have it to compete people will grumble but in the end it's not significant compared to the existing costs so it won't make any difference to participation.

I do NOT see it being adopted by track day groups as described.  They're specifically designed to appeal to much more "casual" customers who are not going to buy their own in-car hardware or pay subscription fees.  The "track day organizer supplies rental units" model doesn't work either -- most track day groups don't have $25-30K ($250 each times 100-120 cars) of spare capital to burn and it becomes a huge logistical nightmare to charge them all up before an event, hand them out to the drivers, collect them at the end of the day, keep track of who got what and did they return it, deal with lost or damaged units, etc.  Locally BMWCCA runs a data-based coaching add-on for advanced drivers, and just dealing with handing out 15 or so solo 2 systems is enough of a challenge.

What I can see showing up at track days would be a system that's just an app you run on your smartphone.  Everybody's got one of those, many drivers are already mounting them in the car to do timing and/or video.  If you've got a "Flagger" system at the track for the event, it should be fairly straightforward to run an app on the smartphone that acts like the dedicated in-car unit.  Use cell data for the flag info (very low bandwidth requirements), GPS for location, and the app shows the flag whenever you're within N feet of the corner location that it specifies.  Ideally it would be one where the "Flagger" system generates a standard protocol that third party apps can tie into so that instead of having to use a flagging-only app, the flag stuff can be an extension to whatever your favorite timing app is.

 

BA5
BA5 Reader
1/7/21 6:59 a.m.
codrus (Forum Supporter) said:
Tom1200 said:

I really am a pain in ass. I still want to know the difference between our current method and this system. 

Well, if it's like other forms of motorsport that have used in-car flag display (F1, say) it's a supplement to the physical flags rather than a replacement.  If you've got all the same flags that you used to, PLUS a display/alert (with sound?) in the car, then that's better at providing notification to the driver.  I can see it being adopted by club racing organizations fairly easily -- if SCCA or NASA says you have to have it to compete people will grumble but in the end it's not significant compared to the existing costs so it won't make any difference to participation.

I do NOT see it being adopted by track day groups as described.  They're specifically designed to appeal to much more "casual" customers who are not going to buy their own in-car hardware or pay subscription fees.  The "track day organizer supplies rental units" model doesn't work either -- most track day groups don't have $25-30K ($250 each times 100-120 cars) of spare capital to burn and it becomes a huge logistical nightmare to charge them all up before an event, hand them out to the drivers, collect them at the end of the day, keep track of who got what and did they return it, deal with lost or damaged units, etc.  Locally BMWCCA runs a data-based coaching add-on for advanced drivers, and just dealing with handing out 15 or so solo 2 systems is enough of a challenge.

What I can see showing up at track days would be a system that's just an app you run on your smartphone.  Everybody's got one of those, many drivers are already mounting them in the car to do timing and/or video.  If you've got a "Flagger" system at the track for the event, it should be fairly straightforward to run an app on the smartphone that acts like the dedicated in-car unit.  Use cell data for the flag info (very low bandwidth requirements), GPS for location, and the app shows the flag whenever you're within N feet of the corner location that it specifies.  Ideally it would be one where the "Flagger" system generates a standard protocol that third party apps can tie into so that instead of having to use a flagging-only app, the flag stuff can be an extension to whatever your favorite timing app is.

 

Tom1200 put what I was trying to get at in my original post much more succinctly.  Sure, it's *just* a $100 per year, but it's still $100 per year.  Possibly from *everyone*.  It's much better to look at what they're asking for in aggregate than individually.  They're nominally asking for $6 million over the next 5 years (or so, given what the true adoption rates will be, etc.).  That is still a lot of money, and really out to have at least a little bit of data backing up that it offers some sort of improvement.  Unless there are some strict rules on mounting location to make sure it's in an improved LOS location, it's ultimately just as easy to miss as a flag.

APEowner
APEowner Dork
1/7/21 9:21 a.m.
codrus (Forum Supporter) said:

What I can see showing up at track days would be a system that's just an app you run on your smartphone.  Everybody's got one of those, many drivers are already mounting them in the car to do timing and/or video.  If you've got a "Flagger" system at the track for the event, it should be fairly straightforward to run an app on the smartphone that acts like the dedicated in-car unit.  Use cell data for the flag info (very low bandwidth requirements), GPS for location, and the app shows the flag whenever you're within N feet of the corner location that it specifies.  Ideally it would be one where the "Flagger" system generates a standard protocol that third party apps can tie into so that instead of having to use a flagging-only app, the flag stuff can be an extension to whatever your favorite timing app is.

 

That's an interesting idea but I'm not confident that it would be reliable enough to be practical.  Even if it was reliable I think the latency might by a problem.  There's also the issue of there still being tracks in some parts of the country with little to no cell coverage. 

Matt Eastling
Matt Eastling New Reader
1/7/21 9:35 a.m.

In reply to Tom1200 :

Hi Tom, I get your question and understand you don't just want to hear testmonials (which there are many).  We will certainly be collecting the data ourselves but you also have to have some original data to compare it to.  In short, we just brought out the system this summer and there is still very little data collected.  All I can give you now would be testimonials.  I'll say this, the first day in a big race I had about 5 drivers tell me personally the Flagger device went off in their car and it made them look up to see the corner worker and the incident.  I know the Flagger n-Car Alert System has already kept secondary impacts/incidents from happening so I believe the data will be interesting as it comes in.  It might end up being tough to compare data if organizations don't have good, tallied data from their years of records.

codrus (Forum Supporter)
codrus (Forum Supporter) UberDork
1/7/21 12:55 p.m.
APEowner said:
codrus (Forum Supporter) said:

What I can see showing up at track days would be a system that's just an app you run on your smartphone.  Everybody's got one of those, many drivers are already mounting them in the car to do timing and/or video.  If you've got a "Flagger" system at the track for the event, it should be fairly straightforward to run an app on the smartphone that acts like the dedicated in-car unit.  Use cell data for the flag info (very low bandwidth requirements), GPS for location, and the app shows the flag whenever you're within N feet of the corner location that it specifies.  Ideally it would be one where the "Flagger" system generates a standard protocol that third party apps can tie into so that instead of having to use a flagging-only app, the flag stuff can be an extension to whatever your favorite timing app is.

 

That's an interesting idea but I'm not confident that it would be reliable enough to be practical.  Even if it was reliable I think the latency might by a problem.  There's also the issue of there still being tracks in some parts of the country with little to no cell coverage. 

Assuming you have decent coverage there's no reason why latency should be an issue.  Yes, tracks with no coverage would be a problem (looking at you, Laguna Seca), but hilly tracks are going to have problems with any system that uses a local transmitter in the paddock as well.

 

Honsch
Honsch New Reader
1/7/21 1:31 p.m.

Technically, this is a simple problem.

Commercial off-the-shelf LoRa radios will do the data just fine, and the software side isn't very complex.

$200 for the in-car box is fair, but any subscription fee for the in-car box is not.  The only reason you would need software updates is to fix bugs or add features.  If it's just a flagging box, the feature set is tiny and fixed, so only bug fixes should be needed.  If a bunch of new features are added, it's fair to charge for the upgrade.

 

APEowner
APEowner Dork
1/7/21 3:18 p.m.
codrus (Forum Supporter) said:
APEowner said:
codrus (Forum Supporter) said:

What I can see showing up at track days would be a system that's just an app you run on your smartphone.  Everybody's got one of those, many drivers are already mounting them in the car to do timing and/or video.  If you've got a "Flagger" system at the track for the event, it should be fairly straightforward to run an app on the smartphone that acts like the dedicated in-car unit.  Use cell data for the flag info (very low bandwidth requirements), GPS for location, and the app shows the flag whenever you're within N feet of the corner location that it specifies.  Ideally it would be one where the "Flagger" system generates a standard protocol that third party apps can tie into so that instead of having to use a flagging-only app, the flag stuff can be an extension to whatever your favorite timing app is.

 

That's an interesting idea but I'm not confident that it would be reliable enough to be practical.  Even if it was reliable I think the latency might by a problem.  There's also the issue of there still being tracks in some parts of the country with little to no cell coverage. 

Assuming you have decent coverage there's no reason why latency should be an issue.  Yes, tracks with no coverage would be a problem (looking at you, Laguna Seca), but hilly tracks are going to have problems with any system that uses a local transmitter in the paddock as well.

 

The problem with latency is that you have no control over how the network traffic is prioritized.  Just for kick I just spent some time pinging google from my cell phone on a full 5 bar 4G signal.  Each cycle is 20 packets. Most of the time the ping time is less than 100ms and once the cycle starts it's pretty consistant with average ping times of around 60 ms.  If it always did that it would be great but every 10th cycle or so something in the network path decides that my initial packet is a low priority and it can take up to 20 seconds for the first ping to return.  That's with empty packets and no processing time at the server end.  You can't send data directly from one cell phone to another or from a computer directly to a cell phone.  It has to go through a server of some sort so there's also the issue of the service having enough servers and server processing power to handle all of the traffic.

I suppose that the track software could host a website and the cell phones could be logged into that website but there's still going to be some inconsitant latancy.  Heck, my office is fiber from the wall to the IXP and I still sometimes have to wait for the GRM forum to load.  There's just no way to do what's essentiallly real time control through the internet.

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
1/7/21 3:36 p.m.

It's also worth mentioning that the Flagger system forms a mesh network between cars and corner stations, meaning it's not reliant on one central antenna or cell service to reach the far corners of the track. In theory, that should make it much more reliable than a smartphone.

codrus (Forum Supporter)
codrus (Forum Supporter) UberDork
1/7/21 4:19 p.m.
APEowner said:

The problem with latency is that you have no control over how the network traffic is prioritized.  Just for kick I just spent some time pinging google from my cell phone on a full 5 bar 4G signal.  Each cycle is 20 packets. Most of the time the ping time is less than 100ms and once the cycle starts it's pretty consistant with average ping times of around 60 ms.  If it always did that it would be great but every 10th cycle or so something in the network path decides that my initial packet is a low priority and it can take up to 20 seconds for the first ping to return.  That's with empty packets and no processing time at the server end.  You can't send data directly from one cell phone to another or from a computer directly to a cell phone.  It has to go through a server of some sort so there's also the issue of the service having enough servers and server processing power to handle all of the traffic.

I suppose that the track software could host a website and the cell phones could be logged into that website but there's still going to be some inconsitant latancy.  Heck, my office is fiber from the wall to the IXP and I still sometimes have to wait for the GRM forum to load.  There's just no way to do what's essentiallly real time control through the internet.

If you're seeing 10% ping traffic loss (delays of 20 seconds are effectively traffic loss) then either the network is totally broken or the server is de-prioritizing replying to them.  The latter is possible -- Google's servers are there to provide specific services and acting as ping mirrors for random people trying to do network performance analysis isn't really one of them.  Barring network failure, it's a simple engineering exercise to get latency down to less than a second which is plenty for this application.  People play FPS games over LTE connections, remember. :)

Also keep in mind that even if the network does fail, any electronic flagging system is always going to serve as a supplement to having proper corner workers (those workers are still needed as eyes and ears if nothing else).

No, you wouldn't use a web site.  You'd have a central db, clients would register what track they were at and the db would push out notifications for flag events (flag going up, flag coming down) at particular corners.  The only even semi-"real time" aspect would be deciding when the phone should display the flag, and you'd do that in the client application.  Put a track map in there and it can use GPS to figure out what corner it's in.  It gets a notification for "yellow in turn 4, laguna seca", it knows it's currently going down the front straight, so it waits til you get to T2 to display the big warning.

(It's not relevant to the topic at hand, but the part about cell phones not being able to talk to each other is only sort-of correct.  Networks are built in layers -- different protocols are stacked on top of each other in order to provide different types of services.  Phones do not talk to each other at the cellular level ('data link' layer), but there is no technical reason why they can't do it at the IP layer ('network' layer).  The service provider may well have security/firewall rules in place to prevent them from doing it (because it's not the sort of thing that customers generally want to do), but in principle they can.)

 

Tom1200
Tom1200 SuperDork
1/7/21 7:56 p.m.

In reply to Matt Eastling :

Matt thank you so much for answering and being so open and honest. It sounds like your initial data supports the product. 

As a professional pain in the ass (aka Purchasing Analyst)  I really do appreciate it your straightforward open answers. That is always a good sign with a supplier.

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