Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Stan Honey Appointed AC34s Director of Technology

Stan Honey, Rolex Yachtsman of the Year 2010, has been appointed to Director of Technology for the 34th America’s Cup by the America’s Cup Event Authority (ACEA). As many sailors know, Stan’s list of accomplishments, both sailing and professional, is long and deep, from navigating ABN AMRO to victory in the 2005-2006 Volvo Ocean Race to navigating Groupama 3 in setting the Jules Verne record for the fastest circumnavigation of the world under sail in 2010.

Non sailing fans may know Stan as the guy who led the development of the yellow first-down line widely used in the broadcast of American football and the Race/FX tracking and highlighting system used in NASCAR, among other applications. He’s particularly excited about his new role with ACEA as it combines his two sets of interests.

“I’ve been working in technology and TV special effects, in sports TV for other sports for a number of years and I’ve also been working as a professional sailor,” Honey said. “This is the first time that those two careers have combined so that makes it fun for me.”

Honey, who turns 56 on April 8, has spent a good part of the past year working on the system that’s being built to enhance the TV broadcast of sailing through inserting graphic effects using the same kind of animated elements that have appeared in Ian Taylor’s work in Virtual Eye since 1992 and inserting them in the live helicopter video during racing.

“The main goal is to resolve the frustration that people had in the past where if you were looking in the helicopter view you could see the boats but you couldn’t tell who was ahead and who was behind because you couldn’t see the wind direction and you weren’t really sure what perspective you were looking from, whereas when the TV would shift to the animated view, then you could tell who was ahead or behind but you couldn’t see the boats,” Honey explained. “If someone was falling back you couldn’t tell why - did they have a broken halyard, for example.”

Essentially, said Honey, he’s providing the race commentators with a story telling tool that they can use to explain what’s going on, where the lay-lines are, who is ahead and what decisions are going to have to be made at a certain point while also enabling fans to still be able to fully see the race and the boats.

To do that, the boats on the race course have to be tracked very accurately by measuring not only their position but wind direction etc. The position of the helicopter also has to be measured extraordinarily accurately in order to be able to precisely insert the graphic elements in the video.

Given that Honey and his team will have plenty of data to work with, it’ll also be used to support John Craig, PRO, in more efficiently being able to adjust mark positions, to determine OCS at the start, and also to support Mike Martin, chief umpire, who can use the data to determine overlaps at zone entry - at the marks - and for the umpiring and penalty fulfillment of the race and so on.

The extent of the technology and equipment involved in Honey and his team’s effort to enhance the broadcast delivery of sailing is mind-boggling. British company SIS LIVE recently won the contract to design, build and deliver High Definition (HD) agile cameras and digital RF microwave links for the 34th America’s Cup, responsible for the onboard cameras, onboard encoding and onboard microwave transmission systems required to get the signals off the boat.

Honey says there’ll be seven cameras on board each boat, plus one media cameraman, so multiply that by the number of boats racing and that presents a huge amount of coordination going on between determining what feeds to bring off the water down to basic things like maintaining the huge amount of electronic equipment in a marine environment.

“We have more cameras on the water than we have abilities to bring signals ashore so that if you had ten boats in the water and there’s eight cameras on each boat, there’s 80 potential feeds,” Honey said, “But we only have the ability to bring 12 off the water due to the limitation of the microwave spectrum, so then it’s the job of the producers who are making the decision of what the story is to determine which are the most important signals to bring off the water.”

The equipment that has been developed to date was put to test last month in Redwood City, Calif. aboard Cal 40s and another trial will be done in New Zealand in a few weeks on the AC45s. While the roll out of the equipment will be ready for the first World Series event in August, Honey says the gear will become increasingly sophisticated as his team aims for continual improvement in the graphics that they’re able to provide to the producers.

The cost of all this remains a mystery and while the SIS contract with ACEA is reported to be a “multi million pound” deal, Honey would not divulge even an estimate of the dollars being dropped on the project.

“No, I can’t give you an estimate. It is a lot of money and that’s one of the things that’s been interesting - the commitment of the Event Authority and Race Management and ultimately of Larry Ellison to do a first class job of the TV production and at a very high level.”

Honey resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and is married to Sally Lindsay Honey who also a very accomplished sailor and two-time US Yachtswoman of the Year. The couple has one son who lives in Portland, Oregon who, according to Honey, enjoys sailing “but is not quite as serious about it as Sally and I.”

Photo Credit: Claude Breton

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