GETTING STARTED WITH DATA ACQUISITION [MIKKO NASSI, KARTINGASIA.COM]

POSTED ON: November 16, 2009

By Mikko Nassi, KartingAsia.com

Getting Started with Kart Data Logging

Data Download

This article covers the basics of kart data acquisition/data logging (why use it and what for), and goes over what karters should consider when purchasing their first data logging system. A large emphasis is placed on comparing the available systems. I won’t go into much detail about actually analyzing the data - that’ll come in later articles.

At almost any kart meeting you’ll notice that almost all the drivers have a digital dash on their steering wheel which typically shows them at least their lap times, their RPM (Engine Revolutions Per Minute), and an engine temperature (water or cylinder head).

You might feel that it’s a waste of money spending hundreds or thousands (depends on your currency really) on a timing system when you can have your mate time you with a stopwatch. The reason that so many people spend money on these systems is that even when used only to view lap times drivers already gain valuable feedback on their driving. When used to the maximum a data logging system can potentially improve your performance every single time you download and analyze the data!

Additionally other than improving performance a system can potentially save you money warning you of an imminent engine failure – if you see your temperature reading going excessively high you know something is wrong. More than a few engines have been saved when a water hose has come loose or a radiator has broken and the driver has been warned by his onboard dash.

Hopefully that’s already given you enough incentive to consider a data logging system if you don’t have one yet…

What does a data logging system consist of?

A basic entry level data-logging system usually records your laptimes, engine RPM, and engine temperature (water or cylinder head). These basic features can get you quite far already in data analysis, especially if you are able to download the data and review it on a laptop on the software provided with the logger.

The next options usually include a wheel speed sensor and a g-force sensor which are very useful tools in data analysis.

And some even more advanced sensor options available:

  • Additional wheel speed
  • Exhaust Gas Temperature/Lambda
  • GPS
  • Throttle
  • Brake
  • Steering
  • Tire Temperature
  • Tire Pressure
  • Power Valve

What are data loggers used for?

The most obvious benefit of using an onboard display is that it provides the driver with instant feedback on their kart and their driving. On the track the driver will receive instant feedback on his laptimes and will know immediately if a change in setup or driving has improved his laptime.

The driver will also know if there is something wrong with his engine or if he’s running the wrong gearing. If the temperature rises above normal levels he might be alerted to a broken water pump for example which otherwise could’ve resulted in an expensive engine repair bill. With the RPM information a driver will also know if he has gone out with too tall a gearing for example – he will be able to see instantly if he is over-revving the engine at the end of the straight and he can pit to change his gearing and save the engine.

Now that is only what the driver can see on the display when out on the track – with the data logging capabilities there is a lot more to be gained. The onboard systems aren’t only able to constantly display this information to the driver – but they are also able to constantly record this data (duh, that’s why they’re called data loggers).

Most karting data acquisitions systems log data at a rate of 10Hz (10 Hertz), which simply means that they are capable of recording data 10 times per second. This means that with the assistance of software to interpret the data you can plot graphs that display RPM or other values during your lap for every 10th of a second. The PI Research kart system has logging capabilities at 50Hz (50 times per second), which largely justifies its much higher price. You have to be very experienced to be able to take advantage of the added capabilities of the PI system.

RPM Graph

RPM-Distance Graph

The real beauty of data logging comes in comparing your data from one lap to another by overlaying the different laps’ data on the same graph. With just the RPM data you are able to see where you lost time and where you gained it. After a driving-style or setup adjustment you can review the data to see where it helped you gain time – or where it went wrong.

RPM Overlay

RPM-Distance Graph

Even better for driver improvement is comparing your lap to that of another driver on similar equipment. This is where the real gains are to be made especially for new drivers if you are able to find an experienced driver’s data to compare to. It will instantly become apparent where you are losing most of the time from driving technique and you can then focus on those sections by observing him on track to see what the faster driver is doing differently.

Which data logging system should you purchase?

Now that we’ve covered the very basics of data logging and what you can use it for, hopefully you’ve convinced yourself (or your dad) that you really do need to splurge a bit of your hard-earned cash for a data logging system. We’ll now go over what you should consider when choosing a system.

Now because we are talking about data logging, we won’t consider the lower-end models which only display data but don’t provide the possibility of downloading the data.

So the minimum capabilities we are looking for are:

  • display and log laptimes
  • display and continuously log RPM data
  • display and log engine temperature data
  • data must be downloadable

The big three karting data logging companies that offer products in the “affordable” price range are Alfano, MyChron (AIM), and Unipro. In addition to this there is PI-Research with their X-Kart system which is in a price point and performance level above the other three. We’ll go over what these different products offer.

The main considerations we will look at when considering the different loggers and models are:

Timing Method (Magnetic/Infra red/Loop)

Basic Functions available in the unit
Expandability
Software

So this means we will not look at the cheapest options such as the Alfano Fun or MyChron Light which offer only lap timing for example.

Timing Method

Alfano, MyChron, and Unipro all offer both magnetic and infra red timing options in all their models. However it is a consideration you have to make when purchasing the system. Judging from their online information PI Research only offer the infrared option, no reply was received via email when I asked them about this.

The systems have to be triggered at the start of each lap by either a magnet-strip in the track or by an infrared beacon that you place beside the track. The magnetic option is more convenient because you don’t have to remember to put your infrared beacon on the track and take it back at the end of the day - however the tracks you drive at must have a magnetic strip installed. If you know that all the tracks you are going to be driving at have the strip installed then there is no point choosing the infrared option as it is less convenient and more expensive as you have to purchase the beacon, so go with the magnetic sensor. If you are going to be at tracks without a magnetic strip then you have no option but to use the infrared method.

Unipro also has a “loop” option. Which uses a similar sensor to the magnet version. They recommend this as the most reliable option as it is less likely to suffer from vibrations. The problem however is that there has to be an active AMB timing loop on the track.

Now lets get down to more specific details of the different manufacturers and their models.

Alfano

Alfano Displays
Models from Alfano which meet the minimum requirements (rpm, temp, timing) in order from cheapest to most expensive are the PRO V2, PRO+ LV, AStrO LV.

The PRO V2 offers the basic functions discussed earlier but with little room for expandability. All the sensors are compatible with the more expensive loggers so if you upgrade at least your rpm, temperature, and timing sensors will fit on your new system.

A huge drawback of the PRO V2 is its data logging capabilities. You have to put the display into a different mode if you want to record an RPM-trace of your laps, and you are extremely limited as it only records one session and for only a short session. I don’t recommend the PRO V2 if you’re interested in analyzing data beyond your laptimes. Additionally the PRO V2 only logs RPM data at 5hz compared to 10hz of the other Alfano displays. These drawbacks are the same on earlier PRO+ and PRO models which the V2 replaces.

Otherwise the PRO V2 is a robust system and good for the price if you aren’t interested in reviewing more than your laptimes and maximum rpm. It also offers 5 engine time counters, and it has warning functions for temperature and rpm.

The PRO+LV adds improved data recording as all data can be recorded at all times, and in addition to the basic functions you can also add several additional sensors: wheel-speed sensor, lambda sensor, power-valve sensor, and battery voltage sensor.

The ASTRO LV is the premier product in the Alfano karting range and offers the possibility of using a brake pressure sensor as well as a g-force sensor in addition to the sensors avbailable in the PRO+LV.

With Alfano to make a choice between the different models it is important to consider how much expandability and which sensors you will require when you purchase your first system. If for example you purchase the PRO+LV and in the future you want to add a G-Force sensor you have no choice but to purchase the Astro LV.

All alfano displays also have run-time counters for tracking engine usage.

Aim/MyChron

Aim MyChron4
Aim adopts a useful strategy of a modular system in their MyChron4 data acquisition product – they have the basic functions in the display unit and additional functionality can be gained by purchasing additional add-on components. This way if you want to upgrade and start using a throttle sensor or additional temperature sensors you can use the same basic system and add-on an “eBox Extreme” for example.


Aim eBox Gold and Extreme (pictured) add functions
With the basic MyChron4 configuration you get the minimum functions that we discussed earlier – laptime, temperature, rpm, and the ability to download and analyze this data. It’s an affordable way to get into data logging and then easy to upgrade later.


The Aim DataKet adds convenience at the track
You are able to download the data onto your laptop directly or using a very useful datakey - a usb drive that can download the data so that you don’t have to have your laptop at the track or next to your kart when you get the data. You are able to review the lap data from all laps with RPM traces. The MyChro4 offers the best in-display review of your laps as you are able to view rpm traces for example on the display in the pits.

Expansion possibilities come in the form of expansion boxes: the eBox Gold and the eBox Extreme. These offer a myriad of additional sensor possibilities including a GPS capability to map your laps. One thing I don’t believe MyChron have yet is a powervalve sensor - the other three do. The MyChron 4 also has good engine and tyre use counters.

Unipro

Unipro is always has two separate parts to its logger.
The main models to consider from Unipro are the 6002, 6003, 7002, and 7003. These are very nice systems that offer slightly limited expandability at the moment compared to the other options here. For example Unipro does not have a G-Force sensor option yet. It does offer enough options for some very serious data analysis and driver improvement. A nice thing about all the Unipro displays is that they have a separate logger-box which you mount under the nassau panel so you only have one wire going to the steering wheel. All the loggers offer engine run-time logging for 25 engines and tyre use counters for 8 sets of tyres.

The choice between the different unipro models boils down to two things: The different between the X002 models and X003 models is the display. The 7003 and 6003 displays are more configurable and offer more information when looking at the data in the pits than the X002 displays. You are able to run through nice graphical displays with your min/max rpm and speed from every lap for example. Otherwise the functions are very similar. The difference between the 700X and 600X displays is in the memory they have for logging data. The 700X can log data for close to 8 hours. Depending on the amount of inputs though the cheaper 600X version should get you about 2 hours - so you only need the 700X displays if you know you need data logging for long periods of time without download.

Please note however that Unipro is introducing several new sensors in the coming months. A g-force sensor along with other new sensors will be introduced. They are also introducing a new version of the PC Analyser program very soon.

Pi Research

Pi Research's X-Sport display is unique.
The PI Research X-Kart display can display pretty much the information as the others, but it adopts a bright LED rather than a digital display display, so it is less configurable and probably takes more time to get used to all the functions than the other displays because it can’t display everything in clear text like most of the digital displays can.

They also have a modular system in which you need to add a compact logger for basic logging functionality (speed, rpm, temp, etc.) and a Delta Clubman logger for many more advanced options. There is an endless amount of sensors you can use with the PI system. Two examples that aren’t available for the other systems are infrared tyre temperature sensors and tyre pressure sensors! As mentioned before the PI system has the expandability to greater logging rates, to 50hz for example with the Clubman logger and with more $$ even more is possible. Whether or not you need more than 50hz is another thing.

Backlighting on displays

This is for fairly specific use - if you drive your kart in dark conditions such as in nighttime races with poor lighting you will want to consider purchasing a system that can offer a display with a backlight. The MyChron 4 offers this option and the PI X-Kart Dash has bright LEDs to show information.

Which display?

I like them all! The Unipro is real simple to go through and configure, while the alfano is just slightly more tricky in my opinion. The MyChron seems very handy and the USB download is a really good feature. I’d have to try the PI X-Kart to form a proper opinion, however it does look bad-ass and the display looks clearly legible.

I have extensive experience of using the Alfano PRO and the Unipro 6003 and 6002. They have all been reliable systems, and I’ve liked all of them on the track, however for me the software is just as important as the functions of display/logger when choosing one, if not even more so.

Comparing the Data Acquisition Software

If your decision for your data logger was based solely on the display and peripherals the choice might be fairly difficult. All the displays are well built and all offer pretty good capabilities to read the data off them. Once you start downloading data and using the software to analyze your performance a critical aspect in your decision of which system to for for should also come down to how good the software is.

All the manufacturers have their own software to display and interpret the data. For linux and Max OSX users you are out of luck - you’ll have to be using Windows for your data logging analysis as this is the only operating system any of the companies make software for.

Aim Race Studio (MyChron)

Aim Race Studio 2


Unipro PC Analyser
Unipro Data Analyser


PI Club Expert Windows
Pi Club Expert Windows


Alfano VisualData
Alfano Visual Studio

We will look at and compare some key features of the different software: General Usability and Feel, Printing and Data Export, Comparison Graphs, Setup/Notes recording, and some important software features such as being able to view split times and overlays.

If you want to save your time and not read through the specifics: Aim Race Studio has very good software so you won’t go wrong. Next I prefer PI Club Expert and Unipro Analyser. Alfano Visual Data is the worst of the software packages. Software preference however is also largely down to the person using them so it’s best to try them for yourself as well. All 4 can be downloaded online at these pages and they all include sample laps:

Race Studio 2
Alfano VisualData
Unipro PC Analyser
PI Club Expert Windows

Software Usability and Feel, and other additions:

Aim Race Studio 2 is easy to get a hang of. They also have fairly good documentation to help you get started and understand what you are able to do with the software. The general feel of the software is good. You don’t have to wait for anything to pop-up or appear. It’s easy to configure what you want to display - of the four programs the easiest and fastest to change what graphs you are displaying. All menu’s are simple to understand, and small images to bring up different reports quickly show a detailed explanation of the button when you mouse-over them. Aim adds a nice touch of being able to directly email your downloaded test file directly, rather than having to separately attach it in your email program. The others don’t offer this handy addition. It’s difficult to fault Aim Race Studio 2.

The general feel and usability of the Unipro software isn’t bad. After a bit of familiarization it is quite simple to do what you want, but some things such as selecting what to display on a graph are slightly cumbersome compared to Aim’s Race Studio. The info slide-outs on the left side for driver info and other data don’t disappear or appear very fluidly after you’ve opened them - and they don’t open with a click but rather just by hovering over them so they accidentally come in the way sometimes. It wasn’t immediately apparent that it was possible to click on part of the slide-outs to make the go away.

Unipro is hard at work on a new version of their software, and after trying an Alpha release of it for a while all my complaints have gone away - so hopefully soon Unipro software will be at the very top along with Aim Race Studio. (Update April 2009: Unipro does not yet have a fully functional version of their new software, so they are still behind in this area).

Alfano’s software is in my opinion the worst quite comfortably. It’s difficult to navigate around, and difficult to configure the graphs. Moving graphs around is annoying as you can’t have windows partially outside the main window - so you sometimes face problems moving one graph out of the way enough to get to another. I haven’t been able to figure out how to compare laps from two different downloads, which is a very big issue, although I expect it to be available somehow. It does still offer all the analysis options and after some familiarization I started to get a hang of it, so it’s not a complete loss, it just isn’t on par with the others. The software is a lot better than 5+ years ago, but it still has some way to go. It just is far too difficult to figure out simple things.

Unipro, PI, and Alfano software offer some form of simple kart setup recording. Particularly in the Unipro this is quite simple and intuitive to do and it also has the most options, and this will be further improved in their new software. Aim Race Studio doesn’t offer much in this regard other than kart name, driver name, comment. I personally prefer to not having all these options as it clutters the software a little bit at least in the Unipro Analyser, and there are other solutions to recording your software such as TrackTimer software or simply excel sheets and pen-and-paper - and add the critical information and changes into the comment fields available with all softwares. For simple use the Unipro setup recording is ok and might please many karters.

Overlays and Delta Time:

All 4 software options allow you to compare data by plotting two or more graphs on top of eachother. This is an absolutely critical aspect of data analysis. For example if you are able to put the speed traces from 2 laps on the same graph you are able to instantly see where the differences are.

Using an additional graph called delta-time you can see exactly where one lap loses time to the other lap.

Graph on Top Shows Delta-Time

Karting Delta Time Display

All the software versions have the Delta-Time function, also called Compare-Time. What it does is plots a graph of the difference in time of two laps - you can see a continuous plot of when one lap is faster or slower than another lap. This is one of the most useful features used in data logging software.

While all of the softwares can display delta-time, there are differences in how many overlays they can display. Luckily all softwares are at least adequate in this area. Alfano provides 3 at the most - this is suitable for most applications, although a few more to find general trends is useful. Pi allows you to plot 1, 2 or all laps from a session as does the new Unipro software with one additional compare-lap as well. Aim handles this very well allowing you to select from two sessions and more than enough laps per session.

Pi, Unipro, and Aim are all able to overlay laps from different sessions (separate downloads) - I wasn’t able figure this out with Alfano. This is a big oversight if it really isn’t possible.

Split times, Theoretical Lap and best Rolling Lap:

All have the option to display a list of all laptimes with their splits and also tell you the theoretical best lap. There is a bit of variance how many splits are possible with the different systems but they are all adequate for most users. It’s down to personal preference which solution of displaying the splits you like best.

Zooming

It’s very important during data analysis to be able to zoom in and out of the graphs and then easily return to the standard view again. With Unipro it was quite easy to zoom into a specific section, although in their multi-graph view it wasn’t possible to zoom back to full view - this was an oversight and has been fixed for the new version due out soon, which also includes an additional useful magnifier option.

I don’t have any complaints on the zooming capabilities of the Alfano, Aim, and Pi software’s zooming capabilities.

Track Mapping

Getting a map of your track is useful to get a view of the track so you know exactly where you are as you are scrolling through the data, and to split the lap into section. One more functionality is to be able to overlay data on a map to get a visual representation.

All but the Unipro software offer track mapping - this is because Unipro doesn’t currently have a G-force sensor. Track mapping typically uses g-forces and speed to plot a map. This will be available very soon, and the features look very good, such as being able to overlay various data on the map.

Aim’s software comes out on top here compared to Pi and VisualData. It’s very easy to overlay data (such as speed, rpm) on top of a map in a color-coded way.

Printing and Data Export Capabilities

Aim Race Studio handles printing extremely well, and is miles ahead of both Unipro and Alfano software. Whatever you have displayed in the program such as an RPM comparison graph is printed in a clear manner with general information displayed on the top such as session name, date, track, vehicle, notes, and a small track map if you have mapping capability or have added a track map. The base color is white for easy reading off a sheet of paper. Printing out a list of all laptimes in a session is also very simple, as is any other info you are able to view within the program.

Data Export is also very good in Race Studio 2. You can export in CSV, Motec (CSV), Bosch LapSim (CSV), txt, and excel. Aim’s Race Studio export functionality is easily the best of the 4. PI and Unipro both have good excel export. And Unipro has it’s own report files.

Alfano VisualData is severely lacking in this section. Once you figure out how to print a graph (right-click and print) you end up with only the graph (no additional info such as date etc), and it is printed as it looks in the software with a black background! This slows down printing and wastes ink, as well as making it difficult to view the data particularly if you are running even slightly low on black ink. I was unable to figure out how to print a list of all laptimes (right-click print wasn’t available in the laptime view). Data export doesn’t appear to be possible in any form.

While it is lacking in the export functionality PI Club Expert offers very good printing - choose the graph or table you want to print and it prints out a similar to MyChron sheet but with slightly more info on the top such as the laptimes and best laptime of the session.

In Unipro’s new PC Analyser the printing capabilities will be improved to be on par with Pi and Aim, and the export capabilities are extremely good.

Making the final decision

Before we go any further there are some issues you should factor in to your decision other than the quality and features of the logger and its software such as what system is popular where you drive or which system do your teammates have? A lot of value from data logging is derived from comparing laps so it’s good if you use the same system. Does your local kart shop stock parts and sell the system? You don’t want to be stranded because a sensor broke and you can’t find a replacement.

System pricing

Here’s an approximate list of prices obtained from the internet for readers to get a general idea of the differences in pricing of the different systems.

MyChron4 - 255 EUR

eBox Gold - 325 EUR
eBox Extreme - 520 EUR

Unipro 6002 - 455 EUR

Unipro 6003 - 510 EUR
Unipro 7002 - 510 EUR
Unipro 7003 - 569 EUR
(All unipro prices for base kit - only timing, temp and rpm sensors)

Alfano PRO V2 - 280 EUR

Alfano PRO+ LV 340 EUR

Alfano AStrO LV480 EUR

(Only RPM and Timing sensors)

Pi Clubman Logger with X-Sport Dash - 3,000 EUR

(including wheelspeed sensor and a fair bit more - waiting for more pricing info on kart-kits from Pi)

The MyChron4 and the Alfano seem like the top value-for-money systems particularly for simple data logging only. The Pi is in a class of it’s own on price.

Customer Care / Technical Response

In the midst of writing this article and going through the various programs from the respective manufacturers, I naturally had some questions I wanted to ask the manufacturers. Software issues or questions about the technical solutions of their products for example.

This turned out to be a great way of testing out one very important aspect of data logging equipment - customer support for technical assistance or product problems. If you’re heading into a race and suddenly a problem arises with your software or your logger, you want a response quickly. Or even if it’s not a time-critical issue it’s still nice to know that they are there for you.

I emailed Pi Research, Aim (MyChron), and Alfano all on the same day asking some simple questions and I also mentioned that I was writing an article comparing their products with their competitors’ (that should give them even more reason to respond).

A day later I had yet to receive any replies so I tried my luck with Unipro. Within hours I had a response from Claus Lok Mortensen telling me that he will get back to me later - I thought well this is promising. True to his word not much later I got very detailed answers to my questions. He told me the reasons behind the issues I raised, and he actually emailed me the Alpha version of their new software so that I could see for myself what direction they had taken with their new software. Now that was a response! This is also the reason why I’ve been able to offer in-depth Unipro information in this article.

After a week of waiting I’ve yet to hear back from the others.

Just a note that some companies such as Aim and Pi have their own separate customer service and technical teams in their large markets such as the USA, so your customer service experiences may vary depending on your location.

Conclusions

At the moment I use the Unipro 6003 on my kart, and I don’t have any complaints other than the software not really being 100% to my preferences (new one that I like more is on the way), however I can still accomplish everything I want without much annoyance. It’s an extremely solid system, and has some very smart solutions. I love the display and using it at the track - very intuitive. I rarely have to check the manual so it’s easy to get a hand of just by flipping through the options. I see no reason to change to another logger at the moment.

With the Unipro I use the RPM, wheel speed (front), water temp, and a power valve sensor. Next addition will probably be a temperature sensor (exhaust). I’m also waiting for their G-force sensor and new software to be released.

If I didn’t currently have a data logging system I might get the MyChron4. I’d also like to add the eBox Extreme and a bunch of sensors.

If I didn’t have to pay for it, I’d get the Pi system with the 50hz+ sampling rate and all the bells and whistles (Delta Lite logger with tyre temperature, pressure, etc.).

I wouldn’t go for an Alfano again simply because I just do not like their software. Their displays are ok and I like using them, but I have to be comfortable in front of the PC as well. As mentioned earlier though if you can get the hang of their software you should definitely give their products a thought.

Remember that one data logger is not suitable for all drivers. If for example all you will ever need is an RPM trace, temperature, and timing without any intentions to constantly pour over data then just pick one that fits your budget and use it.

To select your system look carefully at what you want to use now and in the future. There might be some specific features that you are interested in that are only available in one or two systems such as the GPS sensor from MyChron which would limit your choices. If you know you will be constantly pouring over data I’d advise against the Alfano system unless you know you can get comfortable with the software.

If you aren’t interested in data logging (why did you read this article?) but just want a display for RPM, temp and times then you can probably go with the cheapest system available to you.

3 Responses to “GETTING STARTED WITH DATA ACQUISITION [MIKKO NASSI, KARTINGASIA.COM]”

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