Sail-World's New Zealand Editor, Richard Gladwell, a former Int Umpire, sat in on the final day of testing for the Remote Umpiring System (RUS?) to be used for the America's Cup World Series and America's Cup itself in the new multihull competition.
Developed to avoid the need for umpires to be chasing the competitors at speeds of up to 35 knots and making decisions, the on screen system effectively slows down the action and enables very accurate calls to be made.
Developed by the team lead by top navigator, and Sportvision founder, Stan Honey, the RUS is accurate to within 200mm and runs with a second or two's latency, which is not significant.
Two on the water umpires are on jetskis following the action and providing on the water input if required.
The umpires sit in front of four screens, the most left hand one, currently displays speed and direction data so umpires can check if boats are slowing down or changing direction - verifying what they are seeing on screen in this test phase.
The two main screens are driven by the umpires and in our visit were used in a zoom and high level mode, so the umpires could see the action close up, but also see where the boats were on the course.
GPS is used to position boats, marks and start finish lines, and track the progress of the boats, which are shown on the screens as scale oblongs (reflecting the catamaran shape) - which can be seen in the video clip to move on screen.
Another innovation on RUS is the use of a virtual field of play, which is a shape imposed over the race area within which the competitors must sail. The competitors get an onboard warning as to their proximity to the virtual sideline and are penalised if they cross the line - as Oracle Racing's Jimmy Spithill does in the clip.
A third umpire runs the fourth screen/laptop which is used to communicate with the competitors' onboard systems via a text message - which show on the on-board display.
Additionally there is full VHF communication channels between the on and off the water Umpires and Race Management, so while the umpires can't physically see what is happening on the water they have other eyes working for them, and are well aware of the reality of the racing situation.
Oddly the effect of RUS is to slow down the action for the umpires, who are always in the perfect position to make a call (being directly overhead the boats). The decision making process is very level and considered, and of course the umpires have access to rule books and other information.
Part of the exercise being conducted in Auckland is to refine rules drafted for the event, so part of the discussion between races is to discuss the actual working, how that applies in real life, and what changes could be needed to make the rule work as intended.
Of course, working out where the competitors are relevant to race marks and the three and six boat length zones. No more on the water guessing as to when a boat enters the zone - now the zones are shown on screen, and change colour when a competitor enters into the zone and mark rounding and obstruction rules take effect.
Next week the trials will continue, with the umpiring system continuing to be used, but now with the TV systems also being tested - we'll catch up with those developments later in the week.
Very impressive - given the time that has been available and that the system is still under development and refinement. Overall we would have a lot more confidence that the right decisions were being made, and that the accuracy of calls was much higher than under the on the water system.
What is now a very good system, can only get better. Sure there are issues if there is a system freeze, but this will reduce as the system is refined, and control can be handed back to the on the water umpires at any time, if need be.
We're impressed at how this system works in real time, and of course it has the big advantage of getting umpire boats out of the way of the TV cameras, so for the viewer the on screen clutter is reduced - making for a much better view of the racing in these exciting boats.