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.
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

Nearly Every Job in America Mapped in Detail

A nifty map pinpoints practically every job in the United States, revealing the economic character of America’s metropolitan areas, which also helps to inform the local culture

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
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.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs