Apex: The hi-tech adventure
There aren't many outdoor adventure events that involve rigging an entire computer network in the middle of a field, or in multiple marquees spread around a forest, but that's exactly what the Apex Challenge regularly does.
The most important part of any Apex event is the weekend of exciting activities and challenges planned for the teams taking part, but technology has always been vital for setting our competitions apart from many others. This was what led to the event being nominated for a prestigious award in summer 2012.
We're always looking at new ways to use the latest gadgets to make the traditional outdoor adventure even more interesting for those taking part. This is how we do it.
The Apex Challenge website is the event's main way of staying in touch with potential new teams and previous competitors all year round. It is filled with reports, photos and videos from our events, dating back to 2002. With social media links to Facebook and Twitter we stay in touch year-round with news about the event, plans for future competitions and encouraging people to suggest ideas. It's also through our website that that teams will enter and pay for their places in the competition. Using a secure online PayPal system teams register, pay and see their details instantly appear online. At times the system has had to cope with an entire event selling out in just 36 hours. Teams will then log on to download event instructions, consent forms and directions.
Arriving at the event
From the moment teams arrive at the event we're aiming for the whole Apex Challenge experience to create as big a wow factor as possible. The music will be playing (with songs requested in advance by teams). There'll be photos from previous events appearing on screens in large marquees. Behind the scenes a custom-written piece of software is managing the event. It tracks all teams and team members throughout the weekend. As they sign in and arrive it displays their details on screen and plays personalised professional jingles to announce the team's arrival. It's a great opening fanfare, but the software really comes into its own later in the event.
At other events the briefing might involve someone standing at the front of the marquee and trying to make themselves heard through shouting, or maybe a loud hailer. Not at the Apex Challenge! It's a hi-tech explosion of audio, video and lighting. Professionally filmed highlights from previous events, a carefully timed mix of music, lights and at times pyrotechnics kick off the weekend. The all important weather forecast from a local TV weatherman and a slick sequence of photos and slides explain what will be happening and when.
Scoring the event
The basis of the event is an advanced version of orienteering with thrilling activities. But the Apex Challenge has long-since dispensed with primitive orange clips that punch holes in control cards. The scoring is all controlled by electronic chips on teams' wrists. Rather than using the somewhat basic software that comes with the system, we've written our own. Teams set off on a staggered start which is managed by the computer system which counts them down to setting off with visual displays on screens and professionally recorded jingles calling teams to set off. The electronic tags hold the teams' data until they return several hours later.
At many orienteering-based events the most you can expect when you return to base is a printout, similar to a supermarket receipt, showing where your team has reached during the competition. The Apex Challenge takes a much more dynamic and hi-tech approach. As teams arrive in the marquee they see the time they have remaining to check back in counting down on the screens. As they download their data, the screens and jingles automatically reveal if they are late and how many penalty points they have incurred. Within seconds their team photo has appeared on the big screen, followed staight afterwards by an animated map showing the route they've just taken around the playing area. Teams watch, trying to work out the final scores and if they have landed in the top few places. The display then reverts to a montage of dozens of photos from the previous few hours, again automatically generated by the event software.
Mobile phone scoring
We have trialled a new system of scoring, again custom-written by our technical team, where teams can use their own mobile phones to track their scores. Teams scan QR codes which holds their score details within an app downloaded onto their handset. In an instant they can update their team details, see their current score and a countdown of how many minutes they have left to return to base. We're now looking at new ways to develop this idea.
Announcing the results
There's no waiting for full results to be posted out a week later at the Apex Challenge. Once the final team has returned the software instantly calculates the final results and leaderboard. It immediately converts them into an on-screen presentation complete with music and recorded countdown of where each team has finished. At the same time it is printing personalised results packs for each team showing their own score breakdown, map, photo and a leaderboard summary. The results are also automatically converted into web pages ready to be uploaded as soon as they have been announced at the event.
We've always wanted the Apex Challenge to inspire more young people to enjoy taking part in outdoor adventures. That's why, from the start, we've tried to move away from the traditional image of such events as being a muddy trudge through a soggy field marking off scores with a wet map and a blunt pencil. We might not be able to control the weather, but at least we've done away with the blunt pencil!