A thousand points of data in one high-flying machine

March 18, 2017


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Oracle Team USA’s new America’s Cup Class boat isn’t just the fastest racing yacht in the world, it’s a fully networked data machine.

Building a boat like this doesn’t just happen — it requires a precise, iterative approach to improving design and performance.

To foster innovation, all of its speed, performance, and control data must be collected for both real-time and later analysis.

Every time the yacht enters the water, sensors connected via Bluetooth, fibre optic, and wi-fi aggregate specific data points. The number of sensors fluctuates, but running more than a thousand concurrently is common.

Some sensors measure weather conditions, others monitor hull stresses and hydrodynamic force on the foils, while others track performance on the wing and sail.

Every sailor wears devices that track heart rate and other bio signals.

All of these sensors operate in real time and the data is pushed out to the team’s Performance Boat — a RIB that follows the race yacht to capture all of the data.

Each of these data points adds up to a more-educated and prepared team as they race towards the 35th America’s Cup.

This data-capturing capability is a result of the internet of Things (IoT) phenomenon and the increasingly viable cost of high-power computing.

Just a few years ago, only 35 custom-programmed sensors measured air pressure on the wing. Today, 300 off-the-shelf sensors provide far more accurate information on the wing alone. In a single test run, Oracle Team USA will generate hundreds of gigabytes of information.

Deep analysis is key to the team’s success. In fact, data is sent to the design team while the yacht is still on the water.

“We can calculate in real time. We can look at what’s actually happening compared to what is predicted to be happening. The sailing team can get a handle on that while they’re sailing,” said Ian Burns, performance team manager for Oracle Team USA.

IoT technology and strategic thinking have ushered in a generational shift in data collection. Nuances that previously couldn’t be measured are now captured with precision. Inexpensive machines crunch gigabytes in real time; the computing power accessible to Oracle Team USA is 100 times what was available in the last race.

There is no longer a trade-off between accuracy, affordability, and scalability.

“The moment the computer resources become less expensive, our guys use more of them,” Burns said.

“The computer solves that we do now are ten times the size that we were doing just last year and 100 times what we did in the last America’s Cup.”

But the answer sought at the end of the equation is always the same — the fastest boat to race in the America’s Cup.