Innovative satellite-enabled technology that delivers photos of amateur sporting events to competitors in seconds has been showcased at a 5k run held at Harwell campus in the UK.

Backed by ESA, British firm AWOL began developing the service in 2020 and it is now used at triathlons, marathons and swimming events across the country.

ESA’s support was delivered from its European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT), which is based at Harwell.

Photographer captures the Harwell campus 5k
Photographer captures the Harwell campus 5k

Recreational runners from ECSAT and other Harwell-based organisations took part in the dash across campus, which was organised to celebrate the success of the collaboration between AWOL and the agency.

Participants in amateur sports races normally expect to wait days to get their pictures from event organisers, but people who completed the 5k run were able to access images in an instant, thanks to AWOL’s space-enabled technology. 

The app employs satellite communications to speed up delivery and uses space-based navigation systems to provide highly accurate time and location tags for each photograph.

The technology also incorporates real-time quality control, ensuring competitors receive excellent imagery.

Uploaded in seconds, photos are recognised via artificial intelligence technology developed by AWOL, and sent direct to the phones of participants, their families and friends.

AWOL's technology was developed with ESA's support
AWOL’s technology was developed with ESA’s support

Building on the success of the app over the past year, AWOL is now looking to scale-up and adapt its technology for new markets, including music festivals, theme parks – and even global professional multi-sport events.

Richard Burnett, Chief Operations Officer of AWOL, said: “Developed as part of a successful collaboration with ESA, AWOL’s technology can be deployed with ease at sports events both large and small, enabling competitors to share their sporting success with friends and family in an instant.

“We’re excited to begin adapting the technology to fulfil its potential at new events and venues around the world.”

Elena Razzano, ESA Business Application Engineer and Technical Officer of the AWOL project, said: “I’ve had the pleasure of working with AWOL since their first contact with the agency, allowing me to follow the exciting growth of the business in the past couple of years. AWOL’s success is even more impressive considering the company developed and launched its service during a period of COVID-19 restrictions, in a business that relies on face-to-face events.

“This proves, once more, how much satellite technology can empower any business to overcome its challenges. We strongly believe there is room for many more companies to discover that satellite technology can be their game changer – and we are here to help them tap into the huge potential of space.”

Shuxiu Zhang, Head of Space Applications and Data at the UK Space Agency, said: “It’s fantastic to see AWOL’s photography service in action, demonstrating its capability for sharing high quality photographs and precise location information at high speed during busy events.

“Innovations like these help us to inspire and connect with each other in exciting new ways that would not be possible without investment into space-enabled technology.

“The UK Space Agency is proud to support AWOL’s concept and we look forward to seeing how far it can go.”

ESA also photos