IT Firm Prepares Student-Tracking App for Swiss Resort's Ski School

Ski and snowboard pupils will be issued LoRa-based radio tags, while access points throughout the resort will determine their location and convey it to the instructor's smartphone via an application.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Sep 27, 2016

At first blush, it might seem odd that Wuerth ITensis—an IT outsourcing services arm of the Wuerth Group, a €5.9 billion ($6.6 billion) multi-national manufacturer of screws and other fasteners—would design and build an Internet of Things system to help ski school instructors monitor their charges. But consider this: Before joining Wuerth ITensis as the company's business manager, Claudio Hagmann spent a decade as the chief information officer of the Swiss ski resort Laax.

"We had been looking at new markets," including the IoT, Hagmann says. "We did some brainstorming, but at the end of the day we decided we should not just talk about IoT and digitization—we should do something. So we all went to Laax as ski guests, and thought about how IoT could be used. I knew that keeping track of students is difficult for ski instructors, because each teacher has eight to 10 kids in each session."

The SkiSchoolTracker app
Indeed, on a foggy day in late March, one child took a wrong turn and ended up skiing down a different valley, which separated him from his group and teacher. It took 60 people three hours to locate him. "Usually, the teacher turns and looks uphill around every two to three turns to check on the group," Hagmann explains, "but visibility can be cut to 15 meters or less in fog."

Hagmann and his colleagues quickly got to work last winter to develop a system that could help ski instructors keep better track of their charges. Because the majority of students are only six or seven years old, most do not carry smartphones, so the system could not rely on tracking the GPS location conveyed via phones. Consequently, Wuerth ITensis brought in a partner, IoT network and services provider TalkPool, which suggested using sensors that comply with the LoRa Alliance's communications protocol for low-power wide-area networks (LPWAN), a spread-spectrum technology that has a long range of up to 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) in rural areas.

For a short pilot test conducted at Laax during the tail end of the 2015/16 season, Wuerth ITensis created 10 special vests with embedded geolocation tags, supplied by French manufacturer Abeeway, that combine a GPS module and a LoRa radio, and issued these to the students. It installed a single LoRa access point made by Kerlink, which contained a LoRa radio manufactured by Semtech. Instructors involved in the pilot downloaded a ski tracker app to their smartphone.

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