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America's Cup - New Zealand developed YachtBot does AC seating plan

by on 22 Jun 2017
Emirates Team NZ v Softbank Team Japan on Day 2 of the America's Cup Qualifiers. The Superyachts are anchored in a designated location, all marks are entered into YachtBot, and one of the numbered Boundary markers can be seen under the platform of Emirates Team NZ Richard Gladwell
A small New Zealand firm is making a significant contribution to the America’s Cup, with an online application which effectively 'seats' all participants in the 35th America's Cup each day - and then re-works the plan if there is a major course change.

A key feature of the 35th America's Cup in Bermuda is the setting of the boundary fence - which is denoted by a series of numbered buoys which relate to positions on an iPad or or other mobile device carried on each flagged boat.

‘YachtBot’ – GPS tracking systems invented by Dunedin firm Igtimi – is on nearly 40 boats operated by America’s Cup Event Authority (ACEA). These include official, photo, television, mark-setting and VIP boats.

YachtBot lets the race organisers build a “virtual stadium” on the water, and establishes a “seating plan” for nearly 1,000 Superyachts, VIPs, and the public. As weather conditions change, ACEA dynamically adjusts the race course and spectator areas to ensure that everyone is as close to the racing action as possible.

The system really comes into its own when Race Director Iain Murray has to rotate the course into a new angle or mark placement in key locations to cope with an unexpected change in wind direction, course configuration, or course length.

With the 35th America's Cup programmed to work with limited window for racing, being able to move location and set up the course within just a few minutes is vital.

Each race has a target time of about 18 minutes duration, depending on windstrength the leg length will vary to achieve the target time.

To complicate matters further there is a set area where super yachts are accommodated on the fringe of the course, usually on the left hand side of the course, with the main spectator fleet being accommodated usually around the bottom marks, and with TV, media and photo boats being allowed inside the boundary but outside a minimum distance and position from the racing.

This America's Cup regatta has been notable for the lack of shouting and confusion on the water between various players - primarily because each can see where they are, and where they are supposed to be - and intervention by course marshalls is very rare, and usually very low-key - because everyone is seeing the same information and their place in the 'seating' plan.

If there is a major change in course location, or if racing gets underway after a delay waiting for the wind to build, all that is required is a simple radio call from the Race Director on the race channel advising that the course location has been set or changed, and the flagged boats can see the change and their position on the updated iPad.

The system works even on relatively small open ribs, with waterproof iPads being used.

Igtimi Co-director, Brent Russell, says “The America’s Cup has never been able to do this before, YachtBot is a critical part of on-water operations”.

Using iPads, YachtBot also helps the organisers place the buoys on the course, and displays the AC50 race boats and helicopters to provide “full view” management. It allows skippers and passengers a first-hand account of where they are relative to the imaginary race boundaries.

Russell says YachtBot’s goal was to provide cutting-edge training and tracking tools at all levels of sailing from the Olympics to clubs. They have customised that technology for the America’s Cup.

“Our first tracking devices were on the 33rd America’s Cup boats in Valencia in 2010. Since then, we’ve made them accessible for club yachting. It’s great that America’s Cup has picked up on our hardware again at the elite level. The bonus is, we’ll bring this upgraded technology back to club yachting, so it’s a win for everyone,” he says.

Co-director, Kylie Robinson, says the YachtBot technology proved to be very popular during the America’s Cup World Series in Japan.

“They were impressed to find that the volunteers using our technology to place the race markers did so faster and more accurately than those who were fully qualified in buoy placement!” she says.

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