During the Tour de France, we reported on the black sticks under the riders’ saddles. These transmitted data on riders’ positions on the road back to a base station to provide information which could be used by broadcasters to enhance their coverage as the race unfolded.
Now SRAM’s Quarq subsidiary has announced a similar product which can provide real-time race information to broadcasters and spectators. Whereas the Dimension Data black stick system uses proprietary transmission protocols and requires vehicles and helicopters carrying receivers to follow riders, the new Quarq system works over commercial wireless telephone networks and so does not require any additional infrastructure to collect and transmit rider data.
Rather like the black stick, the heart of the Quarq Race Intelligence system is a data collector – called the Qollector – which sits in a housing which can be mounted behind the saddle. The Qollector itself is ruggedised, weighs 114 grams and contains a GPS receiver, an ANT+ transmitter, a vibrator, a single on/off button and a set of indicator LEDs. It has a claimed battery life of 24 hours and is water and shock proof. Since it has ANT+ capability, the Qollector can be coupled with other ANT+ devices such as a power meter, heart rate monitor and cadence sensor and provide this data to race followers too.
The Qollector housing can be mounted elsewhere on the bike, not just on the saddle, and the Qollector can also be worn by the competitor – useful for triathletes, runners and for other endurance sports too.
At one minute intervals data is uploaded from the Qollector via the commercial mobile telephone network to Quarq’s QuarqRace computer software. This presents its users with a leaderboard and a map of location and direction of travel for all the race’s competitors who are equipped with a data collector. There’s also an interface to provide data to other websites and TV broadcasters.
Quarq claims that the system has been thoroughly tested with the Australian pro team Drapac and US-based Axeon, in MTB races and in multi-sports events. The key question, of course, is whether the mobile communications networks have adequate coverage over the course of a race to make the Quarq solution reliable.