The America’s Cup is often described as the ‘Formula One of sailing’ and it appears as though teams are now taking the same approach towards communications, with Team Oracle USA’s thrilling comeback victory in this year’s edition partly attributed to more reliable and faster Wi-Fi.
The team, which is bankrolled by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who skipped his Oracle Openworld keynote to watch the penultimate day’s racing, benefited from improved data transfer between the boat, the sailors and the engineering team, thanks to 802.11n equipment from Ruckus.
“From the very start, the America’s Cup has been about technology,” sayd Asim Khan, director of information systems, at Team Oracle USA, who noted the competition started to find the fastest yacht. “In order to win, you need to make some sort of technological advancement over your competitors.”
Sailors are equipped with Wi-Fi enabled devices displays and are connected via a single access point capable of supporting up to 60 devices. The information is also used by the team to ensure the boat is in good health and how it is responding to wave or load pressure.
Khan explains that previously, teams had relied on a single, fixed display in the middle of the craft, meaning information was not immediately at hand, while wireless systems had used Bluetooth or 802.11 Wi-Fi, which were unreliable and slow.
This problem was exacerbated by the fact that the radio devices used by the Wi-Fi displays are weak and would frequently lose connectivity or suffer from increased lag, causing sailors not to trust the information as it wasn’t necessarily real-time, something that is no longer a problem and is giving Oracle an advantage.
“The sailors can trust that the information they are getting on their devices is always accurate and always live,” explains Khan.
The design and production teams also benefit from the connection. Data from practice sessions is analysed using high-bandwidth applications and used to determine the best setup for the boat the next day.
As soon as the boats come in, the gigabytes-worth of data is available to designers immediately and they can prepare reports for the post-race briefing. Oracle’s stunning comeback from eight races to one down to win 9-8 can be explained by the team’s vast financial resources and testing during race days, but the Wi-Fi connectivity’s value was obvious too.
“The benefits of this are beyond what we can even think at the moment because saving that time means we can work on other projects,” says Khan.
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