The Robot Observer

One of the perennial problems with running trials events is observers. Its not that they are crap, its just there are not enough of them.

I’ll observe trials myself and I enjoy it, but partly in the knowledge that I know I can ride an event at another time. If its raining and cold, it can be a bit tedious.

So , like Hawkeye in cricket and tennis, is there a technical solution to the lack of observers ? If not a direct replacement, some form of technology aids to observers would potentially be interesting

The problem
Not enough observers for the bog-standard club trial. You want to run a 20-section 2 lap trial and end up running a 20-lap 2 section trial as you’ve only got 2 observers. Its November, its raining and The Great Escape is on TV.

Robot Technology

In theory there are potentially a number of ways of implementing a technology based robot observer.

video: use a well positioned video camera to record all the riders. The problem will tracking the bike in the section as you’ll need some form of image sensing technology to track the moving image (ie the bike and rider). Most observers turn their head in a section and will also potentially move around, so as to get the best view

sensors: this would need to be a combination of section-based sensors (such as the start and end cards) and a sensor on the bike and/or rider.


Video has the advantage of still allowing human intervention to view the action and apply the power of the human brain to interpret what is going on in the section. The disadvantage is that someone has to sit and watch all the action from the trial (each rider, each section) after the event. Its going to delay getting the results out. There is some cheap web-based technology and it would be best to write to local disk (to ensure data recording and integrity). It could be a good evening in the pub doing the results and it would be a good training aid.


Sensors would have to have the ability to interpret the actions of the bike and rider directly, that is without human intervention. This would need to work out each footing, the boundaries of the section (ie markers etc) and the movement of the bike (for TSR22B for example). This would be non trivial, but would allow for real-time results to be displayed for any specific rider.

The challenges would not be straight forward, but would make for an interesting experiment.

Technology Aids

Not thinking of replacing observers, which would be nice, it would be good in some respects to improve the recording and calculation of results. With the recent Wye Valley trial, 35 sections scattered around a 30 mile lap can make for an interesting exercise in collecting the observer sheets. It also means that though results can be done quickly it can require additional resources.

Logging via mobile phone (ah not many places with a signal in south Herefordshire) or directly in a format the removes transcription errors etc would also be useful.

Head mounted cameras for observers, would also make for interesting viewing.


Video based robot observing potentially gives the affordable short-term solution to the lack-of-observer problem. Investigating the practicalities of recording and interpreting the video is the next challenge. Something that detects movement, is weatherproof and affordable seems to make the best sense.

All good fun !

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