America’s Cup: Powered by Computers

Published on January 31st, 2017

With the high speed of the America’s Cup Class boats, making split-second decisions is among the challenges that the six teams will face during the 35th America’s Cup. Defender Oracle Team USA performance manager Ian “Fresh” Burns and tactician Andrew Campbell peel back the curtain on how they are confronting the issue…

“The real software usage for the crew on the boat is all about getting information to the guys in a pretty tough situation,” notes Burns. “If you can imagine, the guys are standing in front of a fire hose on the roof of a car while driven down the freeway at 55 miles per hour. This is the situation these guys are in and they’ve got to make a split-second decision that could decide the race.”

The solution, Campbell explains, is through computing power. “The tactician position has information about the racecourse on the software tablet. It’s talking about the estimation of the laylines and it’s talking about the boundaries, providing the time and the distance. There’s a lot of calculations that go into it.

“There are basically two phases to the software,” continues Campbell. “There’s the pre-start phase where we’re getting our time and distance to the line organized for us on the software and we just have to confirm it with our eyes. Once the race starts and we are on the race course, all the information about the location of the marks is entered into the system.

“We have information based on our polars relative to laylines and the boundaries which generates how many tacks we’ll end up doing. We have a good plan from the software side that helps us to kind of execute against the other boat on the racetrack.”

The development of the software, and its use, will be a critical part of this America’s Cup. “The software we use is all custom written and made so the guys can get a snapshot of where the boat is and their relationship to the racecourse,” explains Burns. “The moment they get a chance to look at it, they can see where they are, they can see what they’ve got to do, and they can make decisions quickly as possible.”

Campbell notes how the software is providing them with some of the advantages now enjoyed by the television viewer.

“In Bermuda our race course is naturally defined by the size of the Great Sound but within that will be the electronic boundaries. What is seen on TV is what we see on the box and we’ll get information on the software that gives us that similar look and gives us all the same data. The question is whether we can use that to our advantage and figure out what the breeze is doing on top of that to put us in a better position to win.”

Background: The 35th American’s Cup has attracted six teams (5 challengers and 1 defender) that will compete in the new 15-meter AC Class, with a series of qualifiers beginning on May 26, 2017 that lead to the start of the America’s Cup Match on June 17, 2017. Complete schedule.

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