11 April 2016
Hands on the Wheel
Clocking lap times has never been an easy or affordable part of amateur motorsport. Enthusiasts once faced the unenviable choice of renting expensive timing equipment or going without. But an app from Hong Kong-based start-up 18000RPM helps drivers overcome those hurdles.
Avid amateur driver Thomas Chan used his 18 years of experience developing software for mobile phones and consumer electronics to develop the app. For Mr Chan, there was an obvious lack of an accessible timing devices for amateurs and hobbyists, with other technology being expensive and difficult to operate. “In motorsport enthusiast racing, when we go to the race track for practice and track day, there was no easy-to-use, affordable and connected device for timing, data logging and ranking,” he says.
Just Like a Professional
The second iteration of the original app created in 2014, iLapTimer 2, offers all of these functions, serving a similar purpose to lap timers that might be worth as much as HK$10,000. “In professional racing they are able to afford it, but we want to make it more available for amateur racing because this [price] is too much,” Mr Chan says. “With the mobile technology at the moment, we can make it available.”
Professional lap timers, which are available for hire, involve ongoing expenses and are more work than most typical amateurs are willing to put in. “Even with advanced equipment, you have to install the equipment and, after practising, we have to connect the computer to it to download the data, and you can only look at the data with a computer,” says Mr Chan.
“The main idea was that we wanted something that is really easy to install and really easy to look at the data [on],” he says. “The mobile phone is the best way. With current mobile phone technology, we are able to use the sensors and features on the phone.”
While the app is not quite at the precision level needed by professional motorsport, it is not far off, boasting accuracy to a tenth of a second. The app features a selection of in-built track options, charts laps and saves the data, allowing racers to analyse statistics without a computer.
With his passion for motorsport coupled with his expertise in software design, including 10 years working with mobile phones, Mr Chan says creating the app was relatively straightforward, thanks mainly to a deep understanding of the motorsport industry’s ecosystem, and personal networks in the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, Australia and the United States.
To date, iLapTimer 2 boasts 2,000 users worldwide, with 60 per cent in Hong Kong and the mainland, 10 per cent in the US and five per cent in Japan. 18000RPM is focused on increasing its presence in the established motorsport markets in the US and Japan.
Mr Chan says mobilising key influencers and social networks has helped the app gain traction around the globe. iLapTimer 2 was launched with the help of the Infiniti Accelerator and Nest programmes, which Mr Chan said helped greatly in public relations and marketing.
“For intellectual property, Hong Kong and the US have good systems,” he says. “We need to be much more careful when doing things in China. I can see much more support [for start-ups] from different companies and accelerators in Hong Kong [now], so it’s much richer than a few years ago.”
While Hong Kong is well ahead of the mainland in some key areas, he said that there’s still strong local demand for high-quality talent. He said Hong Kong can do more to attract high-calibre start-ups and manpower to set up in the city by relaxing visa requirements and simplifying the application process for government start-up support.
Room to Grow
Mr Chan says his experience as an incubatee at the Hong Kong Science Park has helped grow his start-up, by providing working space and funding for marketing and promotion. Already home to several small-scale accelerator programmes, Hong Kong, he said, can capitalise on this trend by catering to less mainstream sectors, such as his. “Many programmes were not the right fit for us because our app is in the niche market, [whereas] a lot of programmes are looking for more of a mass market.”