Fueled by advances in boat design and all the data expertise you'd expect in an Oracle-sponsored project, Team USA looks to gain a high-tech advantage as it defends its America's Cup championship.
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The two-hulled design allows sailors like Oracle Team USA's Shannon Falcone, pictured above, to reach new speed benchmarks. But they must also handle split-second decisions.
To facilitate faster and more accurate decision-making, hundreds of sensors distributed across the Oracle Team's catamarans feed information to an onboard server, which is enclosed in a waterproof enclosure. The server uses a single wireless access point to send data to devices that each crew member wears on his wrist. With Wi-Fi providing persistent transfers, the vessel needs no additional wires or other physical connections.
Team member Shannon Falcone said the personal devices have trimmed the number of crew members down to only 11, eliminating roles such as navigator in favor of a multi-tasking approach. "There's no one person interpreting the data anymore," Oracle Team USA IT head Asim Khan said in an interview with PCWorld.
Aldaz said the devices supply personalized and actionable information. "The sailors need information in real time," he said. "They need to know things like, 'I have a choice of maneuvers, [so] what could be the best at this time?'"
Some purists might question supplementing human judgment with computerized assistance, but the sailors still control the boat physically. Every crewmember is--with or without technology--a world-class sailor. Technology simply allows the sailors to push their bodies in new direction.
Though the sensor feedback and boat design enable faster sailing, they also limit sailors' margin for error. "There's gonna be some crash and burn," predicted Aldaz, echoing a San Francisco Chroniclearticle that forecast "carnage" during the races. He further remarked, "The really good teams have capsized. Team New Zealand is one of the top teams. They've capsized. We've capsized."
In addition to accelerating the catamarans, technology has also allowed sailors' missteps to be widely witnessed. Thanks to cell phone cameras, YouTube, and other forms of social media, spectators have become ad hoc documentarians since teams began training in the San Francisco Bay last summer.
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