CIA Balloon Live app leads evolution of competition into new decade
The CIA Balloon Live project started in 2018 as a follow-up project to replace the FAI Balloon Competition Loggers introduced in 2009 by the CIA New Technology Subcommittee.
The new project has a larger scope. It replaces the existing loggers with a mobile app and an additional sensor box to guarantee a constant and equal quality of the position (GPS) and altitude (GPS and barometric) measurements.
Additionally, the live transmission of the data becomes reality and opens a lot of new possibilities for live coverage and tracking of the competition. Watchmefly.net is an essential part of the project as a platform for data recording, visualisation and scoring.
Balloon Live App
In August 2019, the New Technology Subcommittee and the Balloon Live Team proudly launched the mobile app on Android and iOS.
The app is used in hot air balloon competition and has the following features:
- 2 app modes: training and competition
- Flight recording with Start/Stop functionality
- up to 8 different electronic marker drops
- up to 8 goal declaration slots
- recording in IGC-file format
- export as IGC file
- Automatic flight resume on app restart
- Background mode when flight is started
- Connection to external Balloon Live sensor for best quality GPS and barometric altitude
In competition mode:
- Synchronisation of competition settings and flight data from watchmefly.net
- Live tracks to watchmefly.net for competition officials and retrieve crew
Along with the release of the app, watchmefly.net was updated with the new WatchMeFly Comp Centre that allows event organisers and competition officials to manage all the flights, tasks and Balloon Live logger data in real time.
Login as a pilot to the Pilot dashboard and have an overview of your past and upcoming competitions. Find your personal token/code to register your Balloon Live app to a competition and download all your recorded tracks directly on your personal profile page.
Competition officials can manage competition details, pilot list, flight and task settings, official noticeboard, measuring reports and download all recorded tracks immediately after landing.
Balloon Live Sensor
The Balloon Live Sensor (BLS) was developed in 2019 and 2020. The sensor closes the gap of the Balloon Live App running on many different phones and the need for precise GPS and barometric measurements. This is done using an external sensor that connects to the app. The design is based on a previous Volirium (Flytec Balloon) product named Sensbox, but is now upgraded to the latest state of technology and extended with functions needed for Balloon Live. The whole design (electronics, firmware and testing infrastructure) was done by Marc André on a volunteer basis. The production is done by Volirium (Flytec Balloon). This is an exciting next step for Balloon Live!
The sensor uses Bluetooth low energy to connect to the Balloon Live App. It uses a custom protocol that also includes signing of the data. Each device has its own signature key. At the pilots’ request, we have added an additional classic Bluetooth connection, so that multiple devices (such as a laptops) can connect and get the same data as the Balloon Live App. USB will be available as an alternative interface.
The sensor is powered by an internal LiPo battery which has approximately 20h run time. The sensor comes with Flytec’s quality altitude and variometer sensing (@8Hz) and a state-of-the-art GPS receiver (@5Hz) that supports all common GNSS standards. The device also stores all tracks on a SD card for backup. The small display shows the status and minimal information.
Milestones of the Balloon Live Sensor development
Eletronics redesign and PCB Layout: Q4/2019
Prototype build: Q1/2020
Firmware development Q2-Q4/2020 (ongoing)
Prototype Testing Q2-Q3/2020
Production test infrastructure Q2-Q3/2020
Series0 production Q3/2020
(Production of 50 devices)
App integration Q3-Q4/2020 (ongoing)
In-flight testing Q4/2020 (ongoing)
All hardware tests were successful and the device is now ready for full series production. The firmware will be further improved over the next months. Unfortunately the planned test-event was cancelled due to COVID-19. We will work on the system and test it during winter so that it is ready in spring 2021. We plan to run a test event in spring 2021 to confirm that the system is ready for competition use.
The Balloon Live Sensors will have to be purchased by the pilots (or the NACs). CIA negotiated a fair deal with Flytec Balloon. In order to reduce cash and inventory, the primary sale of the devices will happen through sale events.
The first sale event closed on 21 November 2020. A total of 517 devices were ordered representing competitors from 25 countries. This was a huge success in terms of best price for participants. But this is also a committment, from competitors and NACs around the globe, that the Balloon Live App and Sensor will play an important role in competition in the coming years.
A few more sale events will happen prior to the next large competitions (Europeans / Worlds). Any purchase outside the events will be significantly more expensive and cannot be guaranteed (inventory).
Discover more about the project, the app, the sensor and how watchmefly.net joins in on the project
Story by Claude Weber, Chair, CIA New Technology Subcommittee & Marc Andre, Project Lead, CIA Balloon Live Project