Driving School Data Acquisition Equipment– Part 1

Are you aware that you may already have a powerful data acquisition system in your possession that can be used at your next driving school or track day event? With the purchase of a relatively inexpensive application, your smart phone can use its GPS location and accelerometer data to capture, document and help you analyze your performance. And, if your device is mounted so that the camera is viewing the track, you’ve got an all-in-one system that can produce a video that overlays the captured data on top of the video image! With the addition of a couple of moderately priced accessories, you can increase the accuracy and update rate of the position data and add vehicle data such as throttle position, tachometer and current gear selection. As an example, take a look at this video from a recent driving school event at Mid-Ohio:

While there are several different applications available for both iOS and Android platforms, this article will be centered on Harry’s Lap Timer, currently available for iOS and just starting beta for Android. The iOS version has been through multiple rounds of improvements and feature additions—it’s now on version 17.x! There are currently three different iOS versions of this application with varying levels of functionality, starting at $8.99 and running up to $27.99.

To get started, all you need is an iPhone and a mount that will hold the device in a position where you can access the controls and it has a good view of the sky to obtain a GPS position. A windshield or dashboard mount would be ideal, and if the camera can capture decent video as well, that’s a bonus!. An iPod Touch will also work, but since that product does not incorporate an internal GPS, you would need an external GPS source—more on that in a later article when we talk about some of the accessory devices.

Before mounting the device and while you have the necessary data connection, load your track from the online database. With more than 450 tracks available, I’ve yet to attend an event where the track definition is not available. If you’re running something like a rally or autocross, there are other options available to define and/or capture the necessary course information. After downloading and activating the track data, you may want to turn off the phone function if you want to avoid the distraction of any calls while you’re out on the track!

Once mounted and with the application running, there are displays available to show that the internal accelerometers have been calibrated for the mounting position and you have a valid GPS position. While there is a learning curve for this application, there is also a simple “Start Driving” button to press and you’re ready to go with no more attention required to the device until you return to the paddock.

With this minimal equipment set, you can now capture data for each lap and the application will provide images like the include examples (and much more) for review and analysis.
In the next article, we’ll discuss the additional capabilities that come with the inclusion of video and other added accessories.

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