Reaching for the Stars—USPA STAR Awards
People | Dec 14, 2021
Reaching for the Stars—USPA STAR Awards

Jen Sharp

On October 6, USPA held its second Skydiving Technology Advancement Roundup Awards (STAR Awards) during a Facebook Live event co-hosted by Director of Sport Promotion Shanon Searls and Director of Technology Jen Sharp. Co-sponsored by Merit, these awards are a collaborative effort to spotlight and support new technology that benefits the sport of skydiving. USPA usually holds this contest in conjunction with Parachute Industry Association Symposium, but this year the STAR event went virtual after PIA canceled its symposium.

Finalists competed for a $1,000 cash prize and potential attention from investors. A three-judge panel—Merit founder Jacob Orrin, PIA Rigging Committee and Technical Committee member Betsy Hoats and Sharp—chose the STAR Award winner. USPA also awarded an Honorable Mention, as well as a People’s Choice Award based on the number of likes that the technology received during its video showcase on YouTube.

STAR Award Winner: ExitCount
Ben Lussier of ExitCount—a mobile app that calculates and displays exit separation information—took the grand prize. Traditionally, skydivers call up to the pilot to ask for ground speed on jump run and then look up the corresponding seconds of separation between exits based on a chart. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen, either due to complacency or lack of understanding. The ExitCount app solves this problem by using a mobile device’s GPS receiver to convert real-time ground speed to seconds-of-separation recommendations based on the distance between groups chosen in the app settings. A phone or tablet mounted at the back of the plane can display this information so that all skydivers have immediate access to it. More information is available by emailing Lussier at exitcountapp@gmail.com.

ExitCount

Honorable Mention: Miniaturized TCAS
Nathan Henry’s Miniaturized TCAS (traffic collision avoidance system) for canopies won the Honorable Mention. The judges bestowed the award on the product, which is still in the development stage, due to its technical innovation. The concept is based on TCAS systems on aircraft—which provide aural alerts when planes are on a collision path—and applies it to canopies. Henry’s system features short-range wireless transceivers worn by skydivers. Using GPS data, the system will alert skydivers who are wearing the device to potential collisions with others skydivers who are wearing the device and will inform them of the relative location of the canopy traffic so that they can take necessary action. Those interested in learning more can email Henry at nlhenry1@gmail.com.

Miniaturized TCAS

People’s Choice: Smart Watch Altimeter
Garnering more than 1,400 views and 431 likes on USPA’s YouTube channel, Smart Watch Altimeter by Ricardo Ospina took the People’s Choice Award. This altimeter app for smart watches (it works with Tizen or Android) tracks jump data and can work as a main altimeter or as a backup. It shows altitude, heading and distance to the landing target, all on a smart watch. The data it stores can also be useful for tracking the location of cutaway canopies. More information is available by emailing Ospina at ricardo@skydivecolombia.com.

Smart Watch Altimeter

Runners Up
Majed Abouhatab from KBR, who has created several electronics projects, was a finalist with his First Now Call alert system. The program, which connects the manifest computer to a speaker system, automatically sends out skydiver calls (five-minute, 10-minute, etc.) for loads, freeing manifest staff up for other tasks. 

Another finalist was Kevin Gyllenberg with Personal Jumpmaster, an audible-altimeter and spot-and-landing-assistance app for Android devices that uses bluetooth or a wired headphone. With options to set windspeed and direction data, it provides several functions, including providing a three-minute warning and exit-spot alert for spotters. It can assist those under canopy with getting to the landing area and provides instructions on when to turn onto downwind, crosswind and final. And if the jumper goes below 2,500 feet in freefall, it will yell, “Deploy!” The app also creates a log that allows a jumper to see a 3-D representation of their skydive. More information is available here: tinyurl.com/bmrxjxc8.


Personal Jumpmaster


Online First Jump Course

Tiffany Becker of Becker Skydiving was also a finalist with her Online First Jump Course, an online pre-course for students who sign up for an in-person first-jump course. The course is mobile-friendly, and the design and content are customizable for each DZ. Since students will be familiar with content—and in just the way the drop zone teaches it—prior to arriving to an in-person course, it speeds up the process. Students must pass quizzes throughout the online course to prove their knowledge before gaining access to additional content. Interested DZs can visit tinyurl.com/2uppum4u for more information.

All of the winners and the finalists in this year’s contest showed an amazing amount of innovation and creativity, and deserve congratulations for their efforts. USPA will continue this technology roundup in future years and will host the next STAR Awards live at the PIA Symposium, scheduled for February 27–March 3, 2023, in Reno, Nevada. Anyone interested in submitting an entry or becoming a sponsor for the event should email Director of Technology Jen Sharp atit@uspa.org. Watch for more at uspa.org/star!

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