Compaq builds world's first wireless mountain

Compaq's Application Development Centre in Christchurch hasn't exactly been sitting on its laurels since Y2K died its death so long ago -- the ADC had instead turned its hand to other projects and not least of these is the Compaq 50K of Coronet ski challenge.

Compaq’s Application Development Centre in Christchurch hasn’t exactly been sitting on its laurels since Y2K died its death so long ago — the ADC had instead turned its hand to other projects and not least of these is the Compaq 50K of Coronet ski event.

What started out as simple sponsorship of an endurance downhill race last year became a technical challenge after skiers in the event managed to take an unexpected break at about 2am. Fog settled on the course, which the competitors ski a gruelling 70 or 80 times each, disabling the finish line timer’s optical beam. Rather than put up with napping contestants, the Compaq team decided to build a better way of assessing the time each team takes on the slope.

“We’ve built a wireless LAN out on the mountain and can maintain a 1Mb/s link from the start line to the finish,” says Compaq spokesman Ken Erskine. The link, which runs over the wireless protocol 802.11, is bounced off a repeater about half way down the mountain. Skiers are tracked using a technology first seen in the Boston Marathon — a pair of wireless beacons that weigh only a few grams are carried by each competitor. At the finish line they pass over a mat buried in the snow that sends out a wireless pulse to the chips in the beacons, confirming the user’s number and time. It then transmits the data to a database which stores the information.

“Best of all in testing we’ve been able to do this in real time.” That information is then beamed to the ADC in Christchurch where it is posted to a website so spectators can see the results almost as soon as they’re posted.

“It’s all run on an Alpha box using Tru64 Unix which means it’s really scalable.” The technology has been developed and adapted in New Zealand and is proving so successful it may be used in other events even up to Olympic level.

This year's race, held at Coronet Peak, runs over July 30 and 31.

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