Land Rover BAR wants to bring the America’s Cup back to Britain. And to do that, it’s betting on Sir Ben Ainslie, the finest data engineers around, Dell EMC technology, wearable devices and roughly 400 fiber-optic sensors equipped throughout its race boat.
The America’s Cup may not dominate the back pages of your national newspaper, but it is one of the biggest, most commercial sports competitions around the globe.
The finest sailing teams compete at events in Portsmouth (UK), Gothenburg (Sweden) and Bermuda in a 165-year competition which leaves little room for error.
A loss of speed, or missing the wind at the optimum moment, can be disastrous from a competitive standpoint. More starkly, there is the danger that these boats – which can reach speeds of 85kmh, can capsize, leading to a loss of life. This was sadly the case in 2013, when British Olympic champion Andrew Simpson died during training for the competition.
In the past, the best team may have had the best boat or the most athletic sailors, but teams now are turning their gaze to the next big differentiators; design and technology.
IoB attended the recent IoT Solutions World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, and found out that one team is leveraging Internet of Things technologies to give it to the edge over its rivals.
We spoke to Land Rover BAR CEO, Martin Whitmarsh, and Dell EMC CTO, John Roese, to discuss their partnership and how they hope emerging technologies can help Britain bring back the America’s Cup to the UK for the first time since 1851.
Tech company trying to build the “fastest boat in the world”
Whitmarsh is no stranger to extreme speed. Previously CEO and team principal of McLaren Racing – a multiple championship winning team in Formula One – he has managed champions like Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton. Indeed, maybe it’s this background which led to Land Rover BAR choosing to use such advanced technologies – McLaren, after all, is using thousands of sensors and partnering with IBM’s Watson IoT to judge race performance on a second-by-second basis.
“Fundamentally, we’re a technology business trying to build the fastest boast in the world,” Whitmarsh told me in Barcelona, adding that the skills of Ben Ainslie and his crew are just as vital as race strategy and real-time decision making.
“I think its’s much more of a technical contest now. We can’t solely rely on the intuitive belief of designers, we have to develop analysis systems that have the fidelity resolution for fractions of percent gains, because we’re all about incrementally improving.”
These small improvements can be the difference between winning and losing, with Whitmarsh mentioning the hydrofoil discovery of recent years, enabling competitors like Team Oracle USA to lift above the water and ‘fly’ at higher speeds.
“Land Rover BAR is in a space that is very technological driven,” said Roese. “They develop next-generation boats and racing tech, and part of that is very much trying to understand the behavior of the boat, the hydrofoils, the system. In order to do that, they have instrumented the boat from top to bottom.”
400 fiber optic sensors
To drive these marginal gains, the team has implemented roughly 400 fiber optic sensors around the boat, deployed wearables on its sailors and – according to team head of IT, Peter Jones (speaking on video at the conference) – is monitoring “every structure [of the boat] at all times.”
“Generally it’s about lots of incremental improvement, and in order to get those we have to collect data,” says Whitmarsh, adding that in addition to the sensors, the wearable tech measures sailors’ performance, stress and overall condition.
This information, when combined with other datasets on weather and sea conditions, is fed back to the Dell EMC data command center and given to tacticians on board the boat so they can make “second-by-second decisions”. Whitmarsh gives examples here by saying they can check when to best move from one hydrofoil to another, or to move the crew at the right time.
In terms of analyzing the data, there are two operating bases, the ‘EMC Mission Control’ centre in Portsmouth (UK), and a second in development at the America’s Cup venue in Bermuda. There is also a mobile centre travelling worldwide to the preliminary competition events, so that Land Rover BAR will have all of its data continuously replicated between the three sites.
As a result, the Land Rover BAR team in Portsmouth is able to analyze race and testing data from around the world immediately, allowing them to identify and make improvements right up to and through the finals in June next year.
To support the telemetry data being collected, high definition video from eight cameras enables more in-depth analysis of the boat in action. All of this data will be stored and accessed for analysis using EMC’s VCE VxRail Appliance, VNXe and Isilon, with every single piece of data captured, stored and reviewed.
“The whole point of it is real-time telemetry — adapting the boat and the performance of it,” says Roese.
“It’s a great example of IoT, which is a combination of the sensor — which is in this case a boat with lots of sensors — and a cloud back-end which allows you to do analysis, and understand and actually use that data.”
Data analysis and Dell data centers
“We’re running with about 400 sensors across our boat, when we test and develop [the boat],” says Whitmarsh. “We give that data back to the design engineers, they talk about and analyze what makes the boat quicker, how do we develop and increase the performance of the boat. The data also is being used to configure boat for a particular day, or certain conditions, like wind etc.
“Finally, the data is being used for tactical decisions during race itself, such as when you make that jive, that tack or manoeuvre.
“We’re less good at grabbing data and making decisions quickly…it’s that piece really where were working with the likes of Dell EMC, and we’re learning. This is new area for us.”
Dell EMC, specifically, is providing the infrastructure and server systems, with data feeding back to the Dell EMC command center. The company has provided the team with a front and back-up system to collect, store and analyze the data the team collects.
Dell EMC provided a portable I/O system designed to travel around with the team during testing and racing so data can be harvested and processed locally, without the team needing to rely on a huge rack of servers or a data centre.
At the back end, Dell EMC provides a cloud layer, backed up by with a large aggregated supercomputing environment in the form of a generalized compute cluster and its Isilon storage systems. This serves to store historical data and apply machine learning techniques to spot patterns in data than may be hidden from the sailing team’s analyst and engineers.
Back to the future – F1?
The America’s Cup finale looms large in Bermuda next year but, when that challenge is done, questions may well be asked on the future of Ainslie and Whitmarsh. Could the former McLaren CEO be tempted back into the Formula One pit lane?
“I think, at the moment, this is really interesting and fascinating challenge for me, so I am focused on that.”
Focused and fast – Whitmarsh and Land Rover BAR are on the right track.