Duncan Wilcock


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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Amazing Tech in America's Cup

As a lover of amazing tech, I have been quite smitten by the America's Cup coverage.  There is of course lots of great new tech used in the boats like carbon-fibre hydrofoils and faster-than-the-wind speeds that I'll elaborate on in a future post,  but first I want to highlight the tech I've noticed in the video coverage, onboard the boats, and the interactive spectator apps.

Like so many things - it's best to start with a picture:

The lines on the water aren't there in the real world of course, but in the video feed they are overlaid & updated live.   This makes watching so much more interactive - for instance the speed of each boat is shown, and if you look closely there is a faint track that shows where the Italian boat has just been.

The significant lines for the course are shown to make it easy to understand where the course is - details like the circles around the marks/buoys, the distance lines, and faintly to the right of the screen is a wide line that indicates the course boundary.  Obtaining all this information in real time and then plotting it on the screen in a way that is unobtrusive, informative, and tasteful is amazing to see so well done.

Dirty Wind

The green lines are implemented with GPS transponders on the boats that relay the exact position, boat speed, and many other parameters back to the central race-control and television computers.

An example of an additional parameter the race-control & television computers have at their disposal is the wind speed and direction.  Combined with computer models of how the wind flows around the sails results in the amazing visualization of 'dirty-wind' shown below.  Dirty wind is air flow that is disturbed by the upwind sail and as a result will transfer less power to a boat downwind of the disturbances.   Here is how it looks in the video coverage with the blue enhancements from the Italian boat that are close to disturbing the Swedish boat.

Live On-board Cameras

Not content to watch from the many helicopters that are circling the boats, there are several onboard cameras (with windshield wipers) to give great shots of the action up close.  Audio from the crew communication systems (essential at the 80km/h speeds they are travelling) is patched in to the coverage, which brings us even closer to the action. Here is a great shot of the Italian team flying on their foils on a downwind leg:

Companion iPad App

I mentioned spectator apps.  As you might expect from San Francisco & the Silicon Valley Tech Titan - Larry Ellison - who deserves credit for the vision and funding of so much of this year's America's Cup, there are companion iPhone & iPad apps for spectators.  They are useful as aggregators of news, video footage, schedules, and results.

Not content with just those functions, the telemetry of each race is used to create a video-game like representation of the actual race that you can follow along with live, or once the races have been uploaded to youtube.  They call it 'Virtual Eye', and you can see how much it looks like exactly like the overlays in the television coverage.  The side bar at left allows you to add additional information that they don't normally complicate the television coverage with.

It's amazing, a real, usable example of interactive, second-screen television that adds to the experience of watching the event.

If you haven't seen one of the races yet - download the iPad app & follow along, or watch this recent race between Italy & Sweden I'm not regularly a sports-fan, but I've sure been enjoying the America's Cup this year.