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23

Aug

Technology, cars, adrenalin… the dream geek combo

How we built this year’s Intergen racing car simulators at New Zealand’s Tech•Ed 2011. 

It’s no secret that Intergen and many of its people have a close connection with motorsport.  Last year this connection was made even more obvious with the addition of two racing simulators to the Intergen booth within the Tech·Ed 2010 Marketplace.

And this year our Marketplace presence is bigger, better – and faster – than ever. Same theme, double the size, custom-built and with a vastly improved experience. If you’re attending this year’s Tech·Ed, make sure you come by, have a go and get yourself on the Leaderboard.

 

 Intergen racecar banner

 

Here’s how we built this year’s attraction…

Last year’s racing simulators were a big hit, but this year we wanted to kick it up a level.  This year we’re continuing with the racing theme but this time – tomorrow – we will have four racing simulators and an extended experience which will leverage the Microsoft technology stack to deliver a real-time Leaderboard using technologies such as WPF, Windows Azure and Windows Phone 7.

After Tech·Ed 2010 it wasn’t long before a couple of the Wellington crew decided to acquire their own racing simulator setup.  This became a team building focal point for the members of the MAF FarmsOnLine (FOL) project, which not only included Intergen employees but several vendors as well.   The progression from remote control helicopters and planes to the drone and pure excitement of the racing simulator had cemented itself within the FOL project room.

When ideas for Tech·Ed 2011 started to get tossed around I put my hand up to submit a proposal which would see Intergen buying four racing simulators, all the gear that went with them and developing a software solution for hooking into the game (rFactor – www.rfactor.net ) and providing real time leaderboards and lap information.

 

The Intergen racecar

 

So what’s a racing simulator, you ask?  Well it’s a cockpit frame with a full-size adjustable car seat with additional mounts for a force feedback steering wheel, stereo speakers, and a large flat panel monitor.  The game, rFactor, is closer to reality than your normal racing game.  In fact, versions of the game are used by professional racing teams to familiarise their drivers with the next race track before they arrive.  Most of the track and car modifications come from the community so it is no surprise to find V8s and just about all of the New Zealand and Australian racing tracks available for use with the game.  This year we have gone with the 2011 Australian Super V8s, which we have branded unashamedly with Intergen and Microsoft livery, and a track that offers a good cross-section of fast, slow and technical bits (this too has been branded unashamedly – be prepared for yellow!).

 

The Intergen Leaderboard

 

The four simulators will be controlled by a central rFactor server where we can turn on or off the driving aids, control race conditions and set various other constraints to help make the experience as intense as possible.  This year drivers will be sharing the track with their fellow competitors, providing a chance for some metal-bending action.

 

Yellow race car

 

The software...

On the software side, we have used Visual C++ to hook into the rFactor Internals Plugin API, where we capture and steam lap data received from the game to a socket.  From the socket onwards we are in .NET land.  First of all, Windows service parses the lap data received from the socket and asynchronously sends this to both a WCF service hosted in Windows Azure and to an embedded service in the WPF leaderboard application.  In addition to the WPF leaderboard we have a WPF driver registration application that also communicates with the WCF service hosted in Windows Azure.  The WCF service uses the Entity Framework v4 to persist data to a SQL Azure database instance.  The WCF service is also consumed by the WPF leaderboard for historical data, a MVC3 web site (also hosted in Windows Azure) which is optimised for non-desktop device browsing, and the Windows Phone 7 application that can be downloaded from the Windows Phone Marketplace here, key word Intergen. And you can check out the Leaderboard application here.

 

Grey racecar

 

After Tech·Ed the simulators will be spread between three of Intergen’s New Zealand offices and will be used for other conferences and events we’ll be involved with in coming months.  

This has been a fantastic project and I thank all those involved for helping us make what I’m sure will be the best booth at Tech·Ed NZ 2011. If you’re at the event, come and see us – we’d love to challenge you to a race!

 

Under the hood

Posted by: Lee Herd, Architect, Architecture Services | 23 August 2011

Tags: Tech.Ed 2011, Things we built, racecar simulators


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