Data the driving force behind AC50 designs

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  • Performance testing: Spithill, left, and Dressler take part in a practice run on the Great Sound alongside the rest of the Oracle Team USA crew

    Performance testing: Spithill, left, and Dressler take part in a practice run on the Great Sound alongside the rest of the Oracle Team USA crew


Turning the calendar to a new year brings a new focus for Oracle Team USA and the rest of the America’s Cup teams.

The Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series is in the rear view mirror. Ahead, the new America’s Cup Class boats that will be raced on the Great Sound in Bermuda in May and June.

The development boats the teams use in training and testing as a bridge to the new America’s Cup Class will remain an important tool as well, especially early in the year.

“The AC45 test boats are what we use to emulate and test ideas for the new America’s Cup Class boat,” Jimmy Spithill, the Oracle Team USA skipper, said. “The 45 test boats are basically a copy — just five feet shorter — of what the new race boat will be.

“Ideally you take pieces from the test boat and then plug them into the America’s Cup Class boat. But it is a development game and we’ll be constantly evolving right up to the final race.”

Collecting accurate performance data during testing — and racing — is critical to ensuring constant development right through to the end.

“The America’s Cup has always been a technology race,” said Cooper Dressler, a grinder, and one of the American rookies on the Oracle team.

“Having a data collection system that gives you immediate results is huge when it comes to progressing how we perform.”

Oracle Team USA designers measure all of the key factors on the boat, from the pressure in the wing, to the hydrodynamic forces from the water on the foils, to gain design insights and make performance predictions for new designs.

The data collection is not limited to the boat. The team is also measuring athlete performance.

“We have a system on board that measures our heart rate, for example,” Dressler said. “And we have a system that measures the torque that we produce through the grinding handles. That gives us information as to how hard people are working and how much power they are producing as well as efficiency in the system overall.”

Ian “Fresh” Burns, the team’s performance manager, said the advances in computing power have allowed for an exponential increase in data collection and analysis to help drive the boat design forward.

“The problems we are solving now are ten-times the size of what we were doing just last year,” he said. “They’re 100-times the size what we were doing in the last America’s Cup. Our prediction techniques are probably about ten-times more accurate as far as the drag of the boat is concerned.

“On the data collection side, we pull in anywhere between 200MB and 500MB per day. Every piece of data we get is all stored in the Oracle database. We have a number of other Oracle tools we use for other performance analysis.

“They allow us to search through the data and find correlations between performance and secondary parameters that you might not otherwise look for. That’s a bonus when you find one of those — it’s like finding money in your pocket!”

But for all the data analysis the race will be won and lost on the day by the sailors on board.

“At the speeds we’re going now [at times approaching 50 knots or 55mph], any mistake on board is going to cost you the race,” Spithill said. “Having a fast boat is critical — you can not win without it — but the sailing team, the athletes, really play a big part.

“Screw up a manoeuvre, or worse, nosedive or capsize, and it will probably cost you the America’s Cup.”

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Published Jan 7, 2017 at 10:00 am (Updated Jan 7, 2017 at 12:37 am)

Data the driving force behind AC50 designs

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