Smartphone Orienteering

Orienteering must change to reflect the widespread use of smartphones

Orienteering, as a sport, has permanently changed. The two drivers of this change are the widespread availability of GPS receivers in smart phones and smart watches, and social norms regarding personal interaction and contact. Several Orienteering clubs are attempting to maintain schedules with “no-touch” events, but these events have no mechanism to safely make money.

One very important issue that must be addressed is that controls (or waypoints) need to change to reflect the way people interact with their environment. People don’t use compasses and maps anymore, they use smartphones. Newer and younger users are not able to interact with this recreational opportunity because they don’t own the older equipment; many don’t own a traditional compass, although they do own a smartphone. 

A search of orienteering apps on Google Play shows approximately 20 apps that are available for download. None of these apps include a revenue model that benefits clubs or organizations. Some apps are free and some cost as much as $4.99. Orienteering originated in Sweden in the latter part of the 19th century. From its origins in Sweden its implementation has been largely unchanged in 150 years.[1] Orienteering continues and is a popular recreation activity for several reasons. It is[2]:

  • A lovely stroll, with children and pets,
  • A fitness hike,
  • A way to learn how to read a map and use a compass
  • Or a competitive race.

There are just three items allowed in most Orienteering meets:.

  • The skill and athletic ability of the participant(s),
  • A map,
  • A compass

Specifically GPS is generally not allowed, although many participants use GPS enabled devices to help track performance.

            Goals of this app:   

  •  Make a safe orienteering course, no-touch that will draw participants back to the sport.
  •  Bring new participants into the sport by using familiar tools ie. smart phones.
  • Increase revenues for OUSA, the US sanctioning body for orienteering.
  • Increase revenues for orienteering clubs.
  • Increase the number of orienteering clubs.
  • Make it easier for orienteering clubs to put on meets. Courses can be set with only one field worker, to verify course. Most of the course set up is done at home and online.
  • Make it easier for entrants to participate, by eliminating the need for on-site sign and encouraging second and/or multiple courses.
  • Automate the monetary split between OUSA, the sanctioning club, license providers and app developers. Simplify accounting and direct transfer of funds.
  • Give instant results.
  • Allow courses to be set up for extended periods, reducing the need for post-meet control collection and increasing the time for which revenues can be obtained for course use. 
             Pre-startup:     There are three main screens that need to be activated pre-race. Sign up: The sign up is for the course to be run, the category, and color code. Race information:
  • Orienteering Club
  • Category: Age and gender, or recreational
  • Course color: White, Yellow, Orange, Brown, Red, or Blue

Payment and waiver signature are included in the sign up.

Waiver: The Waiver is digitally signed by each participant and stored on a secure server;  it is digitally signed and retrievable by the club. A third party waiver company will be used to assure quality of product. Note that the waiver will have to be modified to include parties other than the party signing up for the course (ie. anyone using the map). Once the waiver is signed and payment is received a unique key is generated and stored in the database. This encrypted key in the database which enables the user to utilize the map and post results to the website. If a refund is allowed and is requested the key is altered so that results cannot be posted: In fact the app will not work if the user attempts to run the course.

Download: Once the waiver is signed and payment is received, a map can be sent to the recipient with instructions for running the course.  


One main feature of the app is to provide the split time to the next control. ONLY the NEXT control is active, so controls out of order are not an issue, they cannot be recorded. Two extra buttons are provided for the participant to quit or send an SOS (Internet required) to the course designers. Quitting the course transmits a DNF to the club website.



Review Map:

GPS position is recorded at a set interval of approximately 10 seconds. These GPS coordinates are stored locally in a database on the phone and can be displayed, along with control positions and splits on Google maps.    


If the Internet is available the result can be sent to the club website and the standings shown immediately. The results will automatically update as other participants complete the course. If the Internet is not available, the results are stored locally on the device and uploaded as a background task once the Internet becomes available. Results are displayed of every team in order of finish time. A club may decide further how to filter results based on class, age, course color, date, or other customizable database features. Figure 4[3]. The results of a meet can be instantly displayed.

How it works: Once the waiver is signed AND the course is paid for, a unique passcode key is generated and stored in a secure database. A map of the course is then sent to the competitor. This map is the same map as would be used at any other competition. Only this map and a compass are required to complete the course. The above map is an actual map of an Orange course from 2014[4].

Low cost biodegradable controls:

The Corona virus pandemic is teaching us that touching any objects that are shared with other people generates risk. Currently, even on golf courses that are still open pins and ball washers that are normally touched by many are off-limits. A new no contact control is required. The control pictured above costs approximately $0.25 to produce and is completely biodegradable. It may be left in place so the course can be run at any time by the participants. This is a smart phone app. The average resolution of GPS in a smart phone is 16 feet.[5] The smart phone must be carried while running the course.  

How the database stores the control locations: Even though the map supplied to the competitor relies only on a compass, GPS coordinates for each of the control points needs to be stored in the secure database. An example of how a course is stored is shown in the following table:

This app automatically logs successful control acquisition based on the course type:

  • White, and Yellow (beginner) courses = within 75 ft.
  • Orange (intermediate) = within 50 feet.
  • Brown, Red, Blue (advanced) = within 25 feet.

In other words the control is recorded without touching it; you merely need to be close.

No contact is required.

Security: Security is obviously very important. All club information is stored in a database controlled by the app developers and not by the club itself. No Open Database (OBDC) connection is allowed to this database, and secure manipulation of this database will need to be done by HTML apps developed by the team and hosted behind the website firewall. There is a second local database stored in the phone. This will also be encrypted so that GPS coordinates cannot be hacked. All communications between the phone and the database will be done by shared key encrypted communications. Competition: As described clearly this app is not suitable for competition. The main hurdle is the preliminary distribution of maps and the running of the course without supervision. The use of GPS or second telephones cannot be ruled out. If competition is a desirable attribute of this system, methods and rules will have to be sorted out. These might include designating the entrance as competitive, receiving the map at an appointed time, and scheduled starts. No way to bill more for teams: Even though a team may register two or more names for results purposes, it seems better to get multiple waivers at no cost then to try to collect for the second person. If a single map is issued this would encourage teams to register under only one name and have only a single waiver on file. Licenses and computer fees: The app has to work for both Android phones and for Apple iPhones. As described the following fees will be required on an ongoing basis to make this app viable long-term.

  • Website/database fees and security certificates
  • Waiver system developers API fees.
  • Google: Google maps API fees.
  • Apple: Apple store and developer fees.
  • App developers: The developers of this software will require pizza at least.
  • Encryption providers: some third party encryption providers require fees.
  • Condes: licensing for map generation.

Individual Club Websites: Individual club websites are not affected by this app. A pointer (redirect) can be stored in a subdirectory of the club’s or organization’s website. It will in no way affect operation of that website. There is no limit to the number of clubs that can participate in the application of this software nor is there any limit to the number of meets that a particular club may put on. A brief user guide to the app will also have to be created.


A parent will not be able to take the children to a ballgame for years, but can get them out to the park for some orienteering fun. Orienteering events will explode in numbers.


[1] Wikipedia “History of Orienteering,”, accessed 4/2/2020.

[2] Gold Country Orienteers,, accessed 4/2/2020

[3] NAVX results, Diablo Hills 2020,, accessed 4/10/2020

[4] Map from Gold Country Orienteers, Orange Course, March 9, 2014.

[5] Official US government information about global positioning system. accessed 5/15/2020.g