Panbo

America's Cup 34, a tech overview

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Nov 19, 2011
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Stan Honey has not always been grinning during the San Diego session of the AC World Series, but it's staggering what he and the many tech teams behind the scenes have already accomplished. As I had hoped. In fact, while I came mostly to see the technology, I've become enthralled by the racing itself, which -- almost ironically, and a far cry from previous AC's -- is all about sailing skills rather than competing design and gear technologies. The fleet of AC45 catamarans is nearly pure one design (they have some latitude over the "soft" sail designs) and I understand that the only racing electronics the crews use are GPS speedos. What all the gadgetry and software supports are remarkably agile race management, fast and fair umpiring, and phenomenal audio video broadcast coverage...

If there's a heart to the multiple systems it might be that light gray NovAtel high precision GPS you can see in Stan's press conference collection. On the race boats, you'll see them painted black and mounted at the aft end of the carbon "bumpkins", and hence on center and right at the boat's stern. Used with a reference station set up ashore, the NovAtels are accurate to 2 cm -- less than an inch! -- but added to it in that Pelican case is inertial motion unit (IMU) information accurate to 0.1 degrees of pitch, roll, and heading. So what gets streamed ashore is just every move made by the cats. Which, mind you, weigh only 3,000 pounds while sporting a 70 foot tall, 915 square foot wing mast and sometimes more than a 1,000 square feet of headsail. The AC45's move easily and quickly!
   The mark boats -- and all the other vessels in the remarkable support fleet -- are also accurately tracked and all this data is sent ashore for processing using familiar Ubiquiti Bullets (though they're using private channels and tweaked installs). This core data then goes out to the race management and various broadcasting systems, as well as the screen shown below being explained by Director of Umpiring Mike Martin. There are umpires out on the water, some on jet skis (also tracked on that screen), but the calls are made ashore.
   In a future entry, I'll get deeper into the umpiring system, which includes the clever use of those onboard LED signal lights seen above on Stan's table. I've also had a chance to get aboard the committee boat and see how the race manager can modify the marks and boundaries during a race and push the changes instantly to Garmin 7000 MFDs installed on the mark boats. And this afternoon I'll be in the container farm where the broadcasting teams create the LiveLine overlays and virtual race model, and mix the input of an insane number of microphones and HD cameras.
   But I'll also be paying close attention to today's match racing finals, which are shaping up to be a battle of crack French and New Zealand sailors. If you can, I highly recommend watching the live coverage on YouTube or TV, link's at the AC home site.You'll get a better sense of the racing there than you can on the water next to the course or even from the VIP perch high on the bow the aircraft carrier Midway, though that's a scene I'll also try to share.

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Comments

You could say that the match racing champ was predictable, seeing as it was Oracle Spithill (with Larry Ellison as "guest crew"), but the French are coming on strong and I'm dead sure that these races are being run fair and square...maybe more so than any previous sailboat racing.

And it was quite exciting in the LiveLine production booth, which is actually a container stuffed with electronics and some very skilful operators. An unidentified and intermittent RF source was messing up the LiveLine helicopter video feed. The chopper's data feed -- it's tracked 10x more precisely than the race boats -- was fine, but it's frustrating to overlay all that useful LiveLine data onto imperfect video. Many possible causes were discussed, some explored, but I think the actual broadcast was fine because they've built in lots of fall back options.

Posted by: Ben at November 19, 2011 8:58 PM | Reply

Any eye-wear with built in heads up displays?

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at November 21, 2011 9:45 PM | Reply

Stan is just an incredibly nice and patient guy. I'm a sailing nobody and he spent 45 minutes answering questions and clearly explaining sailing trim. To me. By myself.

And his wife might even be the better sailor. He recently won the Rolex Yachtsman of the Year. He loves to point out that he only needs to win it one more time to catch up with Sally.

I worship at the Church of Stan Honey, but then in these parts, we all do.

Posted by: Chris at November 21, 2011 10:37 PM | Reply

Spot on. Stan Honey is one of the smartest and nicest guys in yacht racing.

Posted by: Russ in reply to Chris at November 24, 2011 9:55 PM | Reply

Charlie Doane found a great Seahorse video of Stan Honey explaining the nuances of navigating a super tri around the world:

http://www.sailfeed.com/stan-man

Posted by: Ben at February 25, 2012 3:34 PM | Reply

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