In the last few years, Microgate has been actively involved in the management of Falconry races held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and, specifically, in the major championships of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
After starting out in 2010 with the sole intention of providing timing systems for this specific type of competition, today the services offered to two major customers (Fazza3 - H.H. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohamed Dubai and Abu Dhabi Falconers Club) include Body Rental of a team of 12 skilled timekeepers, race timing software and software for managing the master data of more than 4,000 falcons and almost 1,000 owners and falconers, TV graphics systems and 3D falcon flight tracking systems, websites, mobile apps, data feed services, and consultancy for improving processes and workflows within championships and individual races.
Falconry races held in these countries can be divided into three different types, each one posing technological challenges for the achievement of the utmost precision and reliability.
It is the queen of races and the one that involves the largest number of competitors. It is a classic in line speed race in which the falcon has to cover a distance of 400 metres (or 600 metres depending on the event) by flying very close to the ground while staying within the boundary layer as much as possible. At the start, the falconer releases the falcon (without thrust) and, at the arrival, a "catcher" attracts the bird with a stick and a rotating rope, to which a fake prey is attached. The best falcons complete the route in just over 16 seconds, with a top speed of over 110km/h. A Lidar detects the moment when the starting line and finishing line are crossed, capturing the start as soon as the falcon leaves the launching area, whereas a stop Lidar is placed at the end on the finishing line. Precision and accuracy are essential, since advantages can be in the order of a millisecond (there have been joint winners in the order of one ten-thousandth of a second!) and, to achieve this goal, two pairs of LIDAR are used on the finishing line. A FinishLynx at 5,000 frames/sec. on the starting line and two FinishLynx on the finishing line, with different views, at 10,000 frames/sec. ensure backup and an additional timing system for any checks that may be requested by the race committee.
Fake preys are attached to a hot air balloon at a height of 150 metres and the falcon must detach them, reaching them in the shortest amount of time possible (in a spiral climb by taking advantage of thermal updraughts). Start and Stop are given manually by two judges (with two Linkgate radio Encoders) that visually see when the falcon is released and detaches the prey. Since the average advantages are in the order of just a few seconds, more sophisticated methods have not yet been taken into consideration.
A radio-controlled aeroplane with a fake prey attached to it takes a route between conical pylons that serve as "doors", and the falcon has to chase the model aircraft without ever catching it. The routes include slalom between multiple pylons at the endurance with distances ranging from 1,200 to 2,000 metres on short 300-metre routes repeated several times, as well as one-kilometre routes repeated in both directions. In this case, the falcon and the "pilot" form a team that has to work in unison (the pilot must let the falcon get close and is then chased by it, choosing the most adequate and fast trajectories). The timing is recorded by a single Lidar, which acts as a start and stop (constant human intervention is required to close/open the line in order to allow the detection of the falcon and not of the model aircraft or the prey).
The sequence of the timekeeping system of a race mainly comprises Rei2 chronometers, the proven Linkgate radio transmission system, MicroTab and MicroGraph LED displayboards both outdoors in the race field (highly appreciated thanks to their brightness and readability even in direct sunlight) and in the many tents where the audience and professionals can follow the race in the shade. The cameras for the photo-finish backup are the proven EtherLynx PRO by FinishLynx, of which Microgate is a distributor and supplier of OEM parts.
Depending on the sites, most of the equipment is housed in a moveable “caravan” (Timing Van) or in a dedicated fixed structure, both with windows to allow timekeepers to always have visual feedback of the competitors.
Since, for obvious reasons, the space/sky area to be covered is much larger than in other sports, the triggering part of the start/stop signals, usually delegated to Polifemo photocells, is in this case carried out by Lidar (a remote sensing technique that allows the distance of an object or a surface to be determined using a laser impulse), appropriately customised by Microgate, equipped with a LinkGate radio decoder and set in a way that prevents false impulses, especially from objects coming from the opposite direction to the flight of the falcon. To do this, a pair of Lidar is used, in which the first one serves as a trigger to notify the second one that an impulse is coming. The trigger/main couple is then appropriately paired with a second redundant one for backup/fault tolerance purposes.
The second custom development for this kind of competition was a small ring containing an RFID transponder (called “MgRing”) to be permanently attached to the claw of the falcon. In fact, even if a falcon has its own personal RingNumber (a kind of international Passport/Pedigree), customers wanted to fully rule out the possibility of falcons being exchanged accidentally or deliberately. Moreover, a transponder that is readable from antennas located in totems/entrance portals would have considerably speeded up entrance/exit operations from the various areas of the competition.
Therefore, the technological challenge consisted in developing a light ring, large enough to contain the RFID chip, without causing any discomfort to the animal, with a "one-time" closing that would make the ring unusable if anyone tried to open it, and applying a gold/silver label with the race number and name of the association (AD=Abu Dhabi, F3=Fazza Dubai).
The RFID chip, although rather small, is powerful enough to allow reading only when approaching the animal at the totems, which are customised with the customer's graphics and contain two receiver antennas. This allows quicker scanning and, above all, in this way no one can touch or approach the falcon with readers or PDAs, which is a relief for falconers who want their "athlete" to stay as calm as possible.
All data is stored in a central database on a server in local clusters, with cloud mirroring, so that it can be used by websites, mobile apps and data-sharing services (APIs, web services, etc.)
At the start of the season (and, in some cases, even before a race) all owners are obliged to register and enrol their falcon in the central database of the Falcon Club. In addition to the master data of the owners and falconers, all data related to the animal is registered, including three photographs (front, side, and detail of the claw with the Ring Number). Any variations (category, age, change of owner, etc.) will be logged, thus creating a full card that can be read at any time. In addition, at the time of registration, all key data is written on MgRing and permanently fixed onto the claw of the falcon. To avoid long queues, owners can carry out the entire data entry process in advance on the customer's website, where they can manage their fleet of falcons in a reserved extranet area.
Master data, calendars, results and statistics are managed by a software programme called “RaceManager Falcon Edition” that is very easy to learn and use, which is important since, in this case, management is entrusted to local Arabic-speaking staff.
The highlight of race management is entrusted to a custom version of MiSpeaker, a well-known race timing software.
All the various additional stages are managed by specific modules (MiIn, MiOut, MiStart, etc.).
Managing a race with a large number of participants can be challenging in terms of organisation and logistics: this is why Microgate has put together with the organisers a workflow that, today, allows even more than 400 falcons to fly in the daylight hours available.
All falcons to be entered in a competition are "scanned" at the entrance of the tent in the Rest Area to make sure they have been properly enrolled in the current season and, if the race is dedicated to a single category/race or age, to check if they have been placed in the right group.
Once inside, falconers put their falcons on special perches while waiting for their turn.
When all participants have entered, a starting list is compiled through a random draw (the starting order can play a key role in case of wind or in certain weather conditions).
In particularly important races, in which owners/falconers apply to participate via a special section on the customer's website, this operation is performed live on TV on the days preceding the race.
The falcons that are about to take part in the race exit the Rest Area and enter an intermediate area, where they are scanned by a second totem.
When it is the turn of a falcon to be released, a totem, placed at the exit of the tent, scans the falcon for the third time and, via management software, sends all data to the Rei2 chronometer, which registers the falcon as a competitor ready for the start. In races where the start is not immediately outside the tunnel of the tent (for example in Baloon), a last inspection may be carried out on-site with a PDA to make sure the falcons have not been exchanged in the short route from the tent to the starting area.
One of the most crucial aspects for general involvement is certainly having results available in real-time for competitors (in the race or waiting) and for the audience present.
For example, in the tent dedicated to guests at the site in Dubai, there are 96 (!) 55” TVs that constantly broadcast placings and other information coming from our systems.
The first level of information is provided through the MicroTab and MicroGraph LED displayboards placed both outside (via WiFi if they are distant from the Timing Van) and inside the various tents. The displayboards provide information on the competitors in the race and their running time (in addition to the maximum 2-minute countdown to release the falcon), leads, placements and data regarding the next competing athletes. Naturally, our displayboards and software must be able to perfectly handle Arabic characters and RTL writing (right to left).
Placings and starting lists are displayed almost everywhere on flat screens (usually 50-inch TVs or larger), with elegant graphics featuring logos and sponsors.
At each end of each heat or category, paper prints or PDFs are provided, which are made available on interactive totems.
Since this sport is particularly popular, many of the most important races are broadcast live on TV. It was therefore necessary to provide information to be superimposed on TV screens not only for the competitor in the race (race number, running time, leads, placement) but also alternating image transmission with placings and other information (such as weather information with regard to temperature, humidity, wind, etc.).
Our "control room" consists of a special graphics station that supports 8 video outputs thanks to special Matrox and Blackmagic cards and latest generation software specifically developed to create layouts and animated transitions and, above all, two skilled operators that receive orders from the director to air what is requested.
Since 2015, a 4K camera system placed at a height of 35 metres shoots the race, following the linear route (Telwah) of the falcon and reconstructing the trail in real-time by rendering an avatar that retraces the route. This trail is generally superimposed on that of the competitor that is in first place at that time, so that trajectories can be compared.
In 2015, the official website of the Abu Dhabi Falcon Club was developed, now available on www.efcad.ae
The website, available in two languages (English and Arabic), is based on a Content Management System (CMS), through which the content editors of the club manage all editorial content, news, events, photo and video galleries, maps, etc.
Interfacing with the database of competitors and races allows race results and participants to be published in real-time, together with a constantly updated calendar.
A reserved area is also made available to each owner, so they can independently manage their fleet of falcons and enrol/remove a falcon from one or several races.
In addition, web rest/json services have also been made available to clubs, enabling the interfacing of partners with our systems and to receive or send data from other websites or from mobile apps.
On our Facebook page, you'll find a rich Photo Gallery about the President Cup 2016, Abu Dhabi
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