News / Science & Technology

    The Trickle-Down Technology of America's Cup

    Oracle Team USA's AC72 catamarans train near Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay, California, Aug. 21, 2013.
    Oracle Team USA's AC72 catamarans train near Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay, California, Aug. 21, 2013.
    Reuters
    Software titan Larry Ellison's decision to race the 34th America's Cup on high-speed 72-foot catamarans, which are harder to build and sail than keelboats, has been criticized for pushing the competition too far beyond traditional sailing and pricing out non-billionaires.
     
    But this is the America's Cup, Silicon Valley's style — it's all about technology, ideas and information — and advances made in preparation for the races are already being felt in television, aerospace and sporting gear.
     
    “The America's Cup has a long history of innovation on all kinds of levels,” said Gary Jobson, the tactician on Ted Turner's 12-meter yacht Courageous when it won the Cup in 1977. “The boats have always had the leading edge of technology, whatever the technology has been.”
     
    Sailing shares with aeronautics the physics of lift and drag and high- and low-pressure airflow — picture a plane turned on its side in the water with one wing a “dagger board” protruding below the hull and the other a vertical mainsail.
     
    This is even more true of Ellison's huge dream cats, known as AC72s. Instead of a traditional mainsail, they are powered by 135-foot-tall fixed “wings.” Forward, they usually carry just a small sailcloth jib to help turn their twin bows through the wind when coming about.
     
    With horizontal fins at the tip of each rudder and dagger board blade below the water's surface, the radical yachts commissioned by Oracle Corp's Ellison — who could define the parameters of this year's Cup boats because he won the 2010 America's Cup in Valencia, Spain — can “hydrofoil” atop the waves at speeds of more than 50 miles per hour.
     
    Carbon-fiber revolution
     
    The AC72 may represent the America's Cup's greatest innovation yet — a mostly carbon-fiber sailboat that borrows heavily from aviation technology.
     
    Industries increasingly share techniques for using Space Age materials adopted early on by yacht builders. Carbon fiber and titanium are the favorites to reduce weight and cost, and add strength to hulls, airframes and components.
     
    Boeing Co. has been sharing information with America's Cup boat designers and builders for years, according to America's Cup sources. A Boeing spokesman said the company could not confirm or deny an America's Cup connection.
     
    Design innovations have trickled down in boating since Alan Bond — an Australian real estate and mining entrepreneur who declared bankruptcy in 1992 and was later imprisoned for fraud — revealed a winged keel that gave his Australia II syndicate the edge over Dennis Conner's Liberty in the 1983 Cup.
     
    Today, many cruising sailboats have similar horizontal surfaces on the bottom of their keels to help them steer straighter and faster. Experts expect hydrofoiling designs to likewise end up on recreational sailboats very soon.
     
    The tall AC72 wings have incorporated twistable flaps along their trailing edge that help maximize lift and keep the boat flat. Aircraft may soon borrow this idea for wing-control surfaces to replace multiple flaps, according to Tom Speers, head of wing design at Oracle Team USA and a former Boeing engineer.
     
    “You could envision an airplane wing where you had full-span flaps that did a number of functions,” Speers said. “They would move together for both roll control and as landing flaps or for maneuver load alleviation and so forth.”
     
    The giant AC72 weighs just 13,000 pounds (6.5 tons, or roughly the weight of two average sedans), thanks to the high strength-to-weight ratio of carbon fiber. The boats are lifted out of the water each night, and the wings are removed for tuning, storage and to remove cameras.
     
    When not sailing, the fragile AC72s are under repair — or are being rebuilt, as after Oracle's AC72 capsized last October. Unfortunately, the AC72 can be fatally fragile: In May the catamaran of Swedish challenger Aremis flipped and broke apart, killing British Olympic sailing champion Andrew Simpson.
     
    “We all said, 'Maybe we are too cavalier about this regarding construction,'” said Oracle's lead designer, Dirk Kramer.
     
    To save time, yacht builders have advanced methods for pre-impregnating resins in carbon-fiber fabric to shorten and simplify the process of laying the fabric around a rigid honeycomb core and hardening the layers together in a mold. This cuts out the costly, time-consuming process of heating the composites in ovens.
     
    From Edison to Ellison
     
    There are many firsts this year aimed at widening the appeal of the Cup. The sailing is in sight of spectators on shore in Ellison's home waters of San Francisco Bay. And you can download real-time race data and apps to watch the crews in action, thanks to remote-control cameras affixed to each AC72.
     
    The event was custom-made for television, with the scenic backdrop and close-quarters racing intended to make the Cup exciting to viewers at home.
     
    Thomas Edison had the same idea when he brought his newfangled motion picture camera to film the America's Cup in 1899 off Sandy Hook, New Jersey. The reel helped introduce Americans to motion pictures. Edison set a standard that still exists for covering big athletic events.
     
    “The decision to capture the decisive moments of a race that featured 90-foot yachts rather than attempting to capture the event in its entirety necessarily involved strategic planning, coordination and timing,” wrote Raymond Gamache in his 2010 book “A History of Sports Highlights: Replayed Plays from Edison to ESPN.”
     
    That footage reinforced a business relationship between Edison and banking titan J.P. Morgan. Morgan happened to be the owner of Columbia and Commodore of the New York Yacht Club, home to the trophy since it had been won from Britain in 1851 by the schooner America, the Cup's namesake.
     
    Morgan's investment in Edison's early power grid evolved into the General Electric Company, although the inventor who put the light bulb in homes had moved into movies by that time.
     
    In 1899, the same year Edison brought his movie camera to the Cup, Italy's Guglielmo Marconi was invited by the New York Herald to demonstrate radio for the first time in the United States by broadcasting the America's Cup from a passenger ship.
     
    Fast-forward to a modern sports television trailblazer named Stan Honey, who is director of technology for AC34.
     
    Honey is a champion Volvo Ocean Race navigator and helped set a record for circumnavigation under sail. He also happens to have led the development of the moving yellow first-down line, which revolutionized televised American football in the 1990s.
     
    Honey built on the innovations of Ian Taylor, Paul Sharp, Alan Trimble and Tim Heidmann, who together pioneered the use of computer graphics in the 1992 America's Cup, which let viewers track boat positions and tactics.
     
    The 1992 Cup also introduced cameras that made steady aerial filming possible from a helicopter.
     
    Jobson, winner of two Emmy Awards for his sailing broadcasts for ESPN and public television, said the gyroscope-stabilized Cineflex camera and a highly specialized lens called a Schwem GyroZoom, ended an era of shaky distant shots from blimps and was quickly adopted for other sports, from auto racing to golf.
     
    In 1992, producers could show videogame-like tracks for America III and Il Moro di Venezia as they sailed off San Diego, California, to illustrate race tactics and relative positions, or live aerial shots of the boats racing — but not simultaneously.
     
    For AC34, Honey's team has integrated the two, using GPS to aim cameras mounted on multiple helicopters to focus within two centimeters of the center of their moving subjects.
     
    Viewers experience the colorful lines, dots and shading of wind and currents, boat tracks, course boundaries and mark rounding zones like natural features of San Francisco Bay.
     
    “People wanted to see the real boats and crew sail, handling and puffs on the water, and at the same time wanted to have aids to interpretation such as lay lines, mark circles and advantage lines showing who's ahead and behind,” Honey said.
     
    Staying safe and dry
     
    When sailing upwind at 20-plus knots into a 20-plus-knot Bay westerly, AC72 crews are exposed to tropical-storm-force winds and a fire hose of salty spray. They are endurance athletes, wired with heart monitors and other sensors, who need waterproof breathable outerwear permitting freedom to rush back and forth across a 45-foot taut mesh trampoline between the hulls.
     
    Because of the high risk of capsize, safety gear has been adapted from other extreme sports. The sailors don helmets and carry a small oxygen tank to be used if they get trapped under water.
     
    PUMA, the shoe and sportswear manufacturer, is a corporate backer of America's Cup 34 and has sponsored the Volvo Ocean Race. The company expects its investment in gear for extreme sailing conditions to find its way into other outdoor sports.
     
    Sailing helped PUMA define its in-house CELL system used to describe different functions of their performance products and allocate materials to manufacturers. Any Puma product with “drycell” on it means that it helps keep you dry, while “visicell” is a product with high visibility.
     
    “Because sailing gear is very technical, PUMA learned a vast amount about working with new materials and sourcing new factory options. Benefits for PUMA are long term because this knowledge can transfer to other categories within the company,” a spokesman for PUMA told Reuters.
     
    This America's Cup has even inspired innovation in academics, where Jan-Michael Ross and Dmitry Sharapov, professors at the Imperial College Business School in London, are seeking to use publicly available race data from the preliminary America's Cup World Series, sailed on the smaller AC45 catamarans, to illustrate how tactical decisions on the water can be used in business situations, especially in winner-take-all-competitions.
     
    Not that Larry Ellison needs any instruction.

    You May Like

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    How Diversity Has Changed America

    Over the past four decades, the level of diversity in the United States has increased most in these four states

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.