Sunday, May 5, 2019

BALANCING ACT: Tech Talk by SailGP Gurus

Day 1 winners Japan Team SF Bay 
SailGP racing left its mark on San Francisco Bay this weekend with a showcase of memorable yacht racing that will leave its mark on the Bay for a long while. An on water technology play like nothing before, the F50 was the subject of a fascinating tech talk at the Golden Gate Yacht Club last week, setting the scene for an exhilarating event.

The panel: Mike Drummond, Technical Director, SailGP, Edwin Upson, GVP, Enterprise Cloud Architects, Oracle, Warren Jones, Director of Technology, SailGP, Hans Henken, Flight Controller USA SailGP Team, Tom Burnham, Coach, SailGP and Phil Crane, Data Analyst, SailGP.

WHAT ITS LIKE FOILING A F50: It's always appreciated when techies can bring the language to the layman. Mike Drummond, describing sailing a F50 catamaran up on its foils, said, “It’s like balancing a broomstick on your fingertip.  Except this broomstick on your finger is actually only a few inches long, and has another full-length broomstick, with a broom on the upper end of it, way up in the air, balanced on top of it.  And it’s not exactly on your fingertip; it’s on the fingertip of your friend, standing right next to you, and you are telling him how to move his finger to keep it balanced there.”
Australia crosses USA Day 1 SF Bay
To keep these boats sailing on their foils, the sailors are constantly adjusting the angles of the foils and sails to achieve and maintain a most opportune “ride height” of the leeward hull above the water.

Very small changes to the bow-up attitude make a tremendous amount of difference: Russell Coutts indicated during a boat tour that a difference of 50cm in ride height when foiling can mean a difference of two to four knots of boat speed. Too low, and your hull slaps the water and that’s very slow. Too high, and the water foil will cavitate (the water around the foil breaks down / boils / evaporates), and you crash back down into the water while going 25 mph.

Hans Henken
HOW THEY SAIL THESE BEASTS: “We sail these boats as you sail most boats, with a seat-of-the pants feeling, combined with the data,” Hans Henken, racing on the US team commented. Henken races on the US SailGP Team and is a Stanford University graduate with a master’s degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering. “We can certainly and dramatically feel when a boat “releases” (presumably from the water and transitioning into a foiling mode), and this is very positive feedback! We use the data to quantify what we did in terms of trimming, moding, and sailing the boat, and to replicate when we have been able to do it particularly well.”

Henken continued, “Pitch and ride height are the comms between the flight controller and the helmsman. More bow down attitude on the boat provides more speed. Our wing trimmer Riley Gibbs changes the attitude and twist of the wing in order to give us the power we want, when we want it.”

Getting and keeping these things flying is tremendously hard work, and it is difficult.  Data has helped these sailors to better learn and understand their flying machines. The boats are highly instrumented, with1200 sensors onboard each vessel. Oracle is helping SailGP to collect, display, transmit, store, and analyze 20 MB of data from every race boat, per 15-minute race. With 1000 channels of information from sensors onboard, and with some channels operating at 50 hz (readings per second), it’s a significant data stream. From it, they are inferring the behaviors of the boat.

HOW THE DATA FLOWS: SailGP proprietary IP is layered atop an Oracle open platform. Oracle intends that model to be replicated for additional sports applications. The SailGP electronics team build some of their own gear, using some conventional marine electronics sensors (from B&G and others), feeding real-time info to on-board displays for vital boat performance and control information. 

Day 1 SF Bay
Every race boat has individual SIM cards, hubs, and their own bandwidth, and their performance data is relayed in real-time via telemetry across a low-latency, custom-built LTE (4G wireless) network built with multiple antennas around and upon the waterfront race area. 

The data (and audio, and video) collected on each race boat flows into a popup data center and into the cloud, at 200 ms. Live video screens onshore, on coach boats, course marshal boats and other displays are powered from a 100 ms from SailGP in London. All of this info mashes up into the SailGP app that you was available throughout last week for practice races and during racing on the Apple Appstore (the app was released to Android Thursday May 2).

Coaches Analyse Racing 
Data gets loaded into autonomous data platforms that include AI. Oracle engineers can set up the data they want to look at, like a Spotify playlist. Teams have hired data analysts to interpret and help teams to learn from data collected and uploaded from sailing sessions and races to better inform performance. 

Before San Francisco, SailGP did not have an adequate dataset to fully analyze the performance of these newly-configured boats; conditions at the Sydney event had light breezes, and they may not have had the opportunity to collect enough race-quality data in heavier air conditions. That will not be the case after the end of this weekend’s racing; the dataset will be more robust, well-developed and useful, and can be compared meaningfully against designer’s polars and targets.

China Team Day 1 SF Bay
Unlike most other types of sailing, each boat gets to look at data from all the other boats, in real time and during post-race analysis. This is in marked contrast to the Americas Cup, and almost all other sailing.

Teams that weren’t performing well in Sydney have greatly improved here in San Francisco in the last week, by using stored performance data, and comparing their sailing efforts to those of the teams who made their boats perform better. In the future, new teams will be able to rapidly get up to speed by learning the boats virtually at first, with stored data, and then going sailing and trying to emulate bench-marked performance achieved by experienced and well-practiced teams.

The data being collected is leading directly to design improvements, including larger wings for lighter venues, and possibly different rudders. The boats will remain one-design but will evolve. Specific suggestions by individual teams are considered for applicability for inclusion in design mods to all boats. There’s a lot more technological development continuing upon the racing boats, and while the data being used for boat technology development and ability to fly them is the most interesting to some of us, SailGP is focused on tech development well beyond the race boats. “We are optimizing everything in conjunction…boat tech, broadcast tech, fan experience, and it’s a lot!” Drummond noted.”

Japan Gybes Day 1 SF Bay
Tom Burnham, SailGP coach, and Phil Crane, SailGP Data Analyst, worked together at the last Americas Cup and it seemed natural to do it again together at SailGP.  Beginning at the first event in Sydney, Phil prepared numerous reports based upon extensive data analysis. They are working now in San Francisco at doing this even better, and they are working on building their abilities to do more meaningful and effective real-time data and performance analysis – and providing feedback, based upon that data, to the teams, both in real-time and in post-race debriefs.

This real-time feedback and input from the coach to the teams is enabling improvement during the day while out sailing and racing, building significantly upon the effectiveness of traditional post-race analysis. In conventional sailing, this is prohibited by the racing rules, which prohibit communications or access to information that is not specifically and freely available to all competitors.

SUPER-DETAILED POST-SESSION ANALYSIS: After each sailing day, there is typically a 1-hr debrief post-race with the coaches and (probably very tired) sailors. They go through race videos, audio, hand written notes, audio notes, and the post-race debrief generates LOTS OF QUESTIONS from the sailors who, during the race, had their hands full just trying to keep the boat flying. When the action is over, they want to know how to fly better.

Tech Services F50 Foil
Boat sensor data, coupled with onboard video, onboard audio, and all boat’s GPS positions displayed in the most appropriate ways enable immersive re-creation of a session or race for analysis. More details provide better data analysis, and a more realistic and accurate recreation may enable noticing small things that might have had unanticipated or surprisingly large inputs into a process - whether it might be a crash or a particularly nice liftoff, tack, or gybe.

After the debrief, Crane digs more deeply into the data, sometimes can answer some of the ‘lots of questions’, and provides detailed reports. Comparing actual performance achieved in a race to theoretical models, benchmarked best behaviors, speeds and angles, and to performance of other teams sailing in the same conditions, in that same race, enables detailed and quick learning opportunities. Teams can look at all of the settings they used onboard for sail and foil controls, compare them to the settings used by other boats in that race and others, and rapidly learn to do things better.

Many F50 settings are automated within control buttons used on the systems. Super-detailed data logging enables post-race analysis of exactly when buttons were pressed, in what sequence, and by whom, to minutely examine what works, and what doesn’t work, as these talented athletes learn to fly these sailing machines.

With continuous improvement of systems, sails, foils, controls, and the sequencing of what they do with all of them, these guys are going to soon learn to balance their broomsticks and foil all the way around the race courses. A race with multiple boats that never slow below 19 knots will be a whole new and exciting kind of simultaneous and competitive broomstick-balancing.   

F50 Performance data seen on screens during Thursday May 2 practice race, with winds 15-18 knots:

Bottom speed in a foiling tack: 18 kts
Takeoff speed:19 kts
Upwind boat speed of 27 kts, VMG (velocity made good towards the wind) of 18.3 kts
28 kts target boatspeed upwind
40 kts of boatspeed achieved at bear away at top mark
23 kts: Lowest boatspeed during a foiling gybe

Note: Thanks to John Bonds for providing this report
Photo Credit: SailGP

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Russell Coutts: Making Sailing Cool Again

Russell Coutts, CEO of SailGP, is in San Francisco this week for the 2nd event in the SailGP global racing series, and the program's first US event. SailBlast was curious to learn more about aspects of the event which are somewhat unique ... and what it is that keeps the Olympic gold medalist and five-time America's winner in this fast-paced game.

SailGP has forged a relationship with US Sailing - how did this come about and how do you see maintaining this relationship over the long haul? 

RC: It’s logical for SailGP to partner with US Sailing as we have a lot of common interests. We both want to promote and grow sailing at the grass roots. The nationality rule that we have adopted for SailGP means that the US team must use US sailors and that in turn means the US Team needs to have a pathway for young sailors to develop their skills such that one day they can sail on an F50. It’s our hope that by presenting an exciting platform with the SailGP Championship, it will inspire more young people to become involved with or try sailing. Our goal is to create a consistent platform of annual events, returning to the same venues each year.

During our broadcast and on our Event TV within the Village we will be showcasing US Sailing programs during our US events which will hopefully help to create more awareness. We also have a number of aspiring Olympic athletes involved in the US SailGP team and they should be marketed to become great ambassadors for the sport, especially for young sailors here in the US.

What do you think is the coolest thing about the F50?

RC: The fact that teams are each racing in the same high tech boats and 
the data coming off the boats is in the public domain is a pretty cool feature. It means that the crews can analyze each others performance and compare the different techniques they are using to sail the boats. That should accelerate the learning curve for all the teams. I suspect the teams will not end up sailing the boats the same though. The play book that one team adopts may not suit another. But it will definitely give us an insight as to why one team might be performing better than another.

Of course we made the boats one design because we want to identify the best sailors rather than who has the best technology and we also wanted to save costs. But the interesting thing is the rule doesn’t stop our central design team from developing the boats, in fact it’s quite the opposite. The rule is simply that each team must use equal equipment as supplied without modification. We are currently building new wing sails to be used for the 2020 season. We’ve just introduced a new flight control system on all of the boats for the San Francisco event. And we will likely build new foils to be implemented in 2021. Whilst the current F50’s are capable of exceeding 50 knots I see no reason why they couldn’t be reaching 55 knots or more in two or three years time. 

You’ve been around the elite sailing game your entire life – what keeps you inspired?

RC: It’s never become boring for me because I’ve always kept an open mind and taken on new challenges. It’s an exciting time to be involved in sailing. I’m pretty involved in some youth programs in New Zealand and we are seeing growth in a few areas for the first time in quite a while. These new forms of sailing are exciting and inspiring the youth. It’s become cool again.

Of course sailing can and should be enjoyed in all forms and at all levels. But having a top professional arm of the sport, that’s well marketed, with a high quality broadcast tailored towards modern viewership habits, involving national teams in a consistent, year round, annual series with defined pathways for youth to make it to the top has been a missing element in our sport.


Check out SailGP in San Francisco this week:

Photo Credit: SailGP