GPS Cutaway Tracking

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I notice there's quite a few posts on this topic already but as far as I can tell the issue of tracking cutaways still hasn't been resolved successfully.

I'm the founder / main developer for the LightBug Solar GPS tracker thelightbug.com

Quite a few people have approached me asking if they could use it for tracking cut-away canopies. I usually answer with a tentative "yes" because I know nothing about skydiving, but it's something I'd like to look into, so here I am...

Firstly, the Lightbug specs:

Weight: 33g
Dimensions: 53x27x15 mm / 2.08"x1.06"x0.6"
Battery Life (assuming no sunlight):
1 location every 12h : 300 days
Effectively: at least 600 "pings" on one charge
Charging time:~1h
Attachment: reinforced keyring loop

Now, I'm trying to work out what needs to be done to make this a useful product for the skydiving community.

My initial thoughts were you use it as a jump tracker (1 second tracking of speed, alt, position..), attach it to your main canopy, and then charge it after every jump. So it serves a double function.
But it seems that smartphones do a good enough / more convenient job of that which is fair enough

So 2nd idea was to pack it in with your canopy, and forget about it for 6-12 months. When it's stationary it stays off, sending one update per day.
When you pick up your bag for a jump, LightBug connects via Bluetooth to your phone and stays asleep as long as you are near it.

In the event of a cutaway, the device will be "moving" without being connected to your phone, which will trigger the "wake" condition.
(You can also set a "safe" Wifi network, so it stays asleep even if it is moved wherever you store the bag)

This effectively means you will get one location every 24h, for 6-12 months and get more regular location updates when you need them.

This makes sense to me, but since I'm yet to go skydiving, I don't really know what I'm talking about. The assumptions I wanted to check here:
- Attachment: is a keyring loop good enough?
- Bluetooth connection: is it fair to assume that you have your smartphone on you when you jump?
- Operating mode: is the above scenario optimal? Or would it be better to get one location every 4h for 3 months regardless of what's happening since you have to repack anyway? (no issues with movement detection of need for bluetooth)

Any feedback would be much appreciated. Obviously my aim in the long run is to sell more devices, but I want to make sure Lightbug is right for the application first..



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Hello Chris,
Welcome to the wonderful world of skydiving. I would like to help you better serve the skydiving community. (Disclaimer: I am a malicious idiot who might have no clue what I am talking about...Be warned!)
There are a few things that a small GPS tracker can help with in our sport.
1) Find main canopies that have been cut away:
A main canopy costs anywhere between $800-$2,000. Sometimes a skydiver may decide to release the main canopy and attempt to land a reserve canopy. This can happen at at many points in the skydive. The released canopy will then be carried by the wind and land wherever it lands. If the canopy can be recovered and reattached then the skydiver does not need to buy a new canopy.
Skydiving usually takes place in rural areas that may have trees or farmland around (Bad network signal). A canopy that falls in to a corn field could be invisible to a low flying plane and in some occasions they get completely lost.
For this scenario, there is no need to track the main canopy until it is separated from the parachute container system. Once it is separated from the system then a ping every 1-10 minutes would be nice.
2) Cutaway + reserve handles and freebag
The process of detaching a malfunctioning main canopy from a parachute container system involves pulling a "cutaway" handle. This handle ($60 minimum) can get lost during the process since the person's hands may need to pull the handle and then do something else. Students are routinely taught to ditch this handle after activation.
Without the cutaway handle, the parachute system (AKA: Rig) can't be used. The skydiver would need to procure a replacement before being able to jump.
The reserve handle ($90) has a similar procedure but the reserve packing is regulated and the associated handle has certain requirements.
The freebag ($250) is a deployment aid for the reserve canopy. During a Cutaway, the freebag will detach from the system and land on it's own. They are also only packed by a licenced rigger and it can be difficult to legally add a tracker to them.
3) Stolen rigs and general inventory management
Several rigs ($3,500-$8,000) get stolen each year. They look like backpacks sitting in a car.
Some skydivers (and teams) have multiple canopies and rigs and sometimes the only way to know what is packed in a rig is to open it up.
Skydiving schools or rental shops also need to manage their gear inventory. Even skydiving helmets ($300-$600) have a tendency to get lost. Some helmets have cameras and other gadgets on them that can drive the price even higher.

Some operational considerations:
The average skydiver jumps ~100 times a year. The tracker can't be charged after every jump. The main canopy can be disassembled, packed and accessed by the skydiver unlike the reserve that most people will only ever access once in 6 months.
I think that 600 pings per charge is a better metric than usage time.

Bluetooth connection is nice but some people do not jump with their super expensive smartphones. What is the range on your tracker signal?

Attachment: don't worry about that too much. Make it small and give us the ability to sew, glue, ziptie or whatever it to stuff.

The closest GPS tracker I can think of is the Flysight system.
There are no dangerous dives
Only dangerous divers

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How will your device communicate it's location, and to what receiver? If via bluetooth, forget about it: bluetooth range is too short, and so the benefit would be only marginal. A searcher that got within bluetooth range very likely will be in visual range. (Maybe very useful in a tall corn field, but that's about it.) Your search pattern would have to be quite tight, and no different than one based on visual location.

If you can get over 100ft, then we're talking, as your search pattern can be more spread out, and so more efficient.

So anyway, if you can fill us in on the details of how it communicates, we can better help you determine if your device would be useful or not.

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I fly a wingsuit and I carry my smartphone on every jump. Wingsuit flights cover a lot of ground and there is general assumption that wingsuit jumpers land away from the dropzone more often than non wingsuit jumpers. So we tend to carry a phone in case that happens.

The Flysight is made to record GPS data at a rate of 5 times per second and is a very good GPS logger. Trying to add value to your product as a GPS logger for skydiving would not be a benefit, in my opinion, not if you are trying to compete with a custom product that does that job.

There will be a lot of debate on where you would put a device so that when you cut away, it would stay with the canopy. Smaller is always better, adding to the options of places you might attach it. Many places that you could mount it might be a poor choice if it could in any way interfere with the normal function of the parachute system.

Not saying this would be a good idea, but if was small enough, inside the pilot chute might have some advantages. One would be access for charging. I know you have solar, but packed somewhere inside a rig, wireless changing might be something to consider. In any case, the pilot chute is on the outside and easy to remove and repack without opening the main container space.
Instructor quote, “What's weird is that you're older than my dad!”

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The website link does give a lot more information.

The device has a GPRS cell radio with world wide capability that will connect with the cloud based tracking service. There is a $60.00 a year subscription cost in addition to the device cost, and that give you access to the tag location from anywhere.

The bluetooth direct connection can also be used to help locate the device.
It's flare not flair, brakes not breaks, bridle not bridal, "could NOT care less" not "could care less".

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Thank you very much for these detailed responses. Gradually getting my head around all of this!

Firstly, I want to address the missing info in my first post:
Lightbug locates itself with GPS & GLONASS and sends it's position over the mobile phone network (GPRS / 2G, worldwide roaming)
Bluetooth is an added feature to detect if you're near to it, not integral to tracking. (BT range
This does mean you need cell phone coverage for it to work as intended but also that the range is effectively unlimited if that is the case

It's basically another GPS Tracker, the difference is battery life, roaming across all networks, and size (so yeah, apologies for missing the important bit in my intro..)

dthames - I really like your idea of installing it in the pilot chute as that addresses all the issues that I've been told about. I'm the last person who can comment on whether it's a good idea or not, but how small would it have to be? I like to give a reference saying Lightbug is smaller than a car key

Say it was small enough and worked, then presumably charging it every few months wouldn't be an issue? (based on the ~100 jumps per year figure decompression gave)

Just seen your response SethInMI.. Thanks :)

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>bluetooth range is too short, and so the benefit would be only marginal.

I'd argue that since Bluetooth (specifically BLE) line of sight range is about 1000 feet, it might be useful if the monitoring device was receiving regular updates. You'd get a track of the canopy as it descended, with signal being lost as you moved away from it. That would at least give you an "arrow" pointing at the area to be searched.

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Some skydiving locations have spotty reception and this is exacerbated by trees, ponds, rocks...
The $60/year charge is a bitter pill to swallow. Is there a way to do a "pay per use" model. Like: you just pay for the tracker then only if you lose your canopy, pay $20 for the pinging to work?
Installing in the pilot chute was my first thought too. Take a look here:http://www.chutingstar.com/media/catalog/product/cache/1/image/1200x/040ec09b1e35df139433887a97daa66f/m/i/miragehandles_1.jpg
The little ball is the activation handle for the main canopy. it is the size of a hacky sack.
But you probably can attach it anywhere on the canopy (Dbag, risers, slider... these are all places that the skydivers here know).
If this can send 600 pings per charge and only turns on after the cutaway happens than there should be no problem to charge once a month, keep it passive until the cutaway.
Even if it just sends one ping once it lands with GPS coordinates accurate to 50 feet...then this is a good thing.

What I would like to see is a tracker that is permanently attached. I charge it once a month or just make sure it is charged before I jump. (so even if it is inside the packjob, I am fine).
The tracker can be totally passive for hundreds of jumps. If there is a cutaway then it turns on and sends pings once a minute until it stops moving. Then one ping each 10 minutes for 24 hours then once an hour until it dies.
The ping can go to a website with GPS coordinates.
You only pay to access the website without a yearly subscription.
Just to give you some perspective about frequency of occurrence.
The average cutaway frequency is once every 700 jumps (Not trying to start an argument just giving the guy some idea...). Some skydivers will not cut away in several years. Paying 60$/year is a bit harsh especially if I buy 2 or 3 of these things.
There are no dangerous dives
Only dangerous divers

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Ha Ha! I like the ransomware business model.

Me: I lost my canopy, I have not paid my subscription in forever, can you tell me where it is?
Them: for 5$ we will tell you the last time it send a position.
Me: Ok. (pays)
Them: we heard from it 10 min ago. for $5 we will tell you if it knows where it is.
Me: Ok (pays)
Them: it knows where it is. For $50 you can know within 5ft, or for $10 within 200 ft.
Me: I'll try for $10. (pays) gets coord. Shit that in the deep woods. I will need a better fix.
Them: $50 please.
Me. ok (pays)
It's flare not flair, brakes not breaks, bridle not bridal, "could NOT care less" not "could care less".

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In seriousness, one nice activation model that would leverage your solar panel would be to only send updates when the device is in the light (and moving, or was in the light and then moved, etc).

In that way, a skydiver could attach the bug to his canopy bag with a clear window. The bag is closed up in the container after packing, so it would only be exposed to light once the parachute is deployed. This would save on battery.

In another direction, I like the idea of attaching it to a pilot chute. It looks about the size of a freefly pud, you could make a zippered bag for it as the PC handle. Easy to charge / move between containers. Just remember not to jump when it is not in the bag...

It's flare not flair, brakes not breaks, bridle not bridal, "could NOT care less" not "could care less".

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Some canopies are upwards of $4,000 USD. For those of us that open those canopies at 13K - $60/year subscription doesn't seem that bad. Call it insurance.

However, the alternative model of 'per use' might also work. You'd probably have to up the 'per use' cutaway cost to make the model work, but we all know people that will pay $100 - $200 to get their canopy back.

This has been used successfully for the same purpose: http://www.iotatracker.com/
Losers make excuses, Winners make it happen
God is Good
Beer is Great
Swoopers are crazy.

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Ok. All useful info.

The subscription: I get your point and I would want the same thing. The issue is that we still pay for the mobile phone contract. However, given the relatively low usage of this application we can probably use a cheaper contract.

So would a business model where you pay $20 per year (possibly have 3 years rolled into the device cost) and then $10 per cutaway be acceptable? (Whilst I like your ransomware model SethInMI we wouldn't charge per ping ;))

Now I want to revisit the point about spotty GPRS / phone coverage. How common is this? Assuming the answer is "quite", we have a device in the pipeline with a local network backup (10 mile Line of Sight range, but at least a few miles with obstacles). This could be perfect for this application but the downsides are increased size (current design is credit card size) and you need a specialized receiver.

I think at this point if anyone could offer some rough "maximum size and weight" information for something attached to the pilot chute that would be really helpful

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Does it only use 2g network? I think 2g switch-off is in plan over the whole world in a couple of years. Otherwise in Europe it should be fine...I can't remeber a dropzone that would have bad reception, even the ones in the middle of nowhere and in mountain valleys.

How about using your own sim? There ares services available that offer 1mb of data per month free. For example this: https://hologram.io/devplan/

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Yep so currently Australia is a no go with 2G (turn off has already started). USA are reducing bandwidth but coverage won't really be affected (as far as I know for now it's hard to get concrete info). 2019-2020 might start seeing degraded functionality.
Rest of the world has not announced any plans for 2G switch off because it's still used a lot by industry. I think overall nothing to worry about just yet, but the plan is to release a 4g device next year to address the issue (which might well coincide with releasing a device that's suitable for skydivers).

Useful to know about coverage

At the risk of sounding grumpy and cynical: you don't get anything for free.. (that is designed to get companies on board who will eventually buy 100s of SIMs).
I'd rather work on a sustainable business model than compromise the device / functionality / user experience. Sounds like I'm making excuses but we've been down the "own SIM" route and it doesn't work.. people don't top up the sim cards, can't set APNs, etc. and it's all our fault. I appreciate that's not the case for a lot of people, but the headaches we had just aren't worth it from our point of view as a business. The data plans we offer are also far cheaper than anything you can buy yourself, at least in the UK and Europe (when you factor minimum top-ups and credit expiry).

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The subscription model can bee moot if you also make a "Remote area base receiver" like a mobile cell tower that works for ~1mile.
This way, a dropzone that has a bunch of people and difficult area of operation can buy a base station for everyone who jumps there. No yearly cost for network, no sim cards no ransom-ware fees.
I built a similar thing a few years ago with an RFID sticker and a long range pinger. The maximum range I got was only 50 feet so it is useless for skydiving but OK for finding things around the yard.

Rough maximum size should be about the size of a golf ball. Just for reference: the main canopy activation handle comes in various sizes but most of them are hacky sacks. I think that the size and weight will matter less if we attach it to the deployment bag or the canopy directly. It would be more critical for attaching to risers.
This size should work for general rig and helmet inventory tracking purposes.
There are no dangerous dives
Only dangerous divers

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Hi, I'm not a very experienced skydiver so please excuse me and correct if I say something wrong, specially about the equipment.

First, I agree with the guy who says it should be useful not only for cutaways, but also for stolen gear. Specially in Brazil, we get that quite a lot.

So, I think it should be have to be charged not less than once every 6 months. It doesnt make sense to charge it often, specially when you never know when you're being robbed.

I also believe it should have GSM+GPS capabilitles. I know that these consume a lot of power, so maybe the GPS could be turned off by default, and the GSM pings the server every 30 min or so. It would only turn the GPS on and transmit its location when there's a request from server.
So, in this case after a cutaway I open the app or browser and ask for location. When the device picks up the message, it will turn on GPS and send location in real time (updated every minute, or less, this could be set remotely).
This would work both for stolen gear and cutaways.

If the device is put inside the container (pilot chute or risers or whatever) then I think we would have problems getting the location when the gera is stolen, because the GPS would be hidden, right?
I dont know how to solve this problem since I dont know much about equipment. I know it should be discrete. Maybe make it in a similar shape of the hackey handle to replace it?

At first I thought I should be able to put my own micro-sim card, and use my own. But then I'd probably by limited by my country and not be able to track it if lost somewhere. So maybe it would be nice if I could choose to use my own sim card or get the worldwide data plan.

So, these are my 2 cents. I'd be really interested in such device. And I know many people around here would be too.

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