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America's Cup - Oracle Team USA gets a look aboard Kiwi AC50

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World on 22 Jun 2017
The 360VR tower can be seen positioned just ahead of the main communications tower aboard Emirates Team NZ’’s AC50 - Challenger Final 2017 America’’s Cup. Richard Gladwell www.photosport.co.nz
With Challenger and Defender intently going over their America's Cup campaigns and trying to evaluate the other's performances, there is a fair chance that they'll be looking at the latest content from a new 3D Video application which takes them aboard their rival's AC50 - sitting in the 'shotgun seat'.

Earlier in the 35th America's Cup Regatta, Race Director Iain Murray confirmed that the teams would have full access to a suite of performance data from their competitors.

That is expected to include content that Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team New Zealand have recorded from an onboard camera stack to gather content for a new 3D Video viewing experience.

The application is the latest development from New Zealand-based Animation Research Limited or ARL who first made their mark 25 years ago with real-time graphic animation in the 1992 America's Cup in San Diego.

That product, now Virtual Eye, while originally designed for the TV broadcast has been extended into a multitude of platforms and devices from mobile phones to PC's smart TV's. ARL have used their market leader position to dominate the sports animation space - covering everything from gliding to cricket, motor racing and golf, as well as sailing.

On the ferry back to Hamilton, Bermuda, Ian Taylor, ARL's CEO gave me a quick look at 360VR (well, it lasted for the 20-minute ride).


360VR runs off a mobile phone attached to a Samsung Gear Virtual Reality Headset (cost under $100).

It provides a stunning 360 view of what it is like to sail aboard an AC50, sitting in the centre of the wingsailed catamaran close to the aft crossbeam.

The 360VR onboard camera pack consists of eight GoPro's - with one looking up, two looking down and five covering a 360degree horizontal radius. The prototype was built about a year ago, using a 3D printer in a basement at ARL's Dunedin offices.

In March 2013, I sat in the same position aboard Emirates Team New Zealand's AC72 as they did some runs in 25kt winds in the Hauraki Gulf.

That AC72 experience was the ideal vantage point to compare what really does happen onboard an AC50 in an America's Cup Race.

This 3D Video clip came from Emirates Team New Zealand's Louis Vuitton Semi-Final race against Land Rover BAR - when the Kiwis had an issue with their port daggerboard and handed the Brits a 26-second advantage at the start of the race.


With the daggerboard now functioning you can hear Peter Burling say to his crew 'OK guys, let's go run 'em down shall we?'.

And then your AC50 ride begins.

Initially one stares straight ahead as you would in a normal movie, then as you turn slightly to the left (or port) you can see Ainslie in the distance about to turn and go around Mark 1, in a shower of spray.

Look to your right, and you can see the four cyclors, with skipper and wingsail trimmer Glenn Ashby, tucked in behind, and with helmsman Peter Burling behind Ashby, looking like he is out for a Sunday drive in the family jalopy.

Look to the left/port and Ainslie has rounded Mark 1 and is heading down to Mark 2.

Then the 3DVideo sequence jumps to part of the windward beat as a tacking duel starts between the two AC50s crossing in front and behind each other.

So you start looking to port and starboard to see whether you're catching the Brits.

Next, you have to turn and look over your shoulder to see them behind, Kiwis have moved through, and the chaser becomes the chased.


That's a brief glimpse of the onboard action the 360VR viewer will be able to see or rather be involved - and with the opportunity to pick on which boat they want to be part of the crew, using content from eight cameras per boat. For an America's Cup race, video is collected and processed from 16 cameras to show the race unfolding.

Oracle's Team USA's learnings

With just three days until the re-start of the America's Cup Match, what will Oracle Team USA be able to see when they jump aboard the New Zealand Challenger and series leader?

Looking at the cyclors, Blair Tuke is mainly working on the daggerboard controls, with his head down while the three ahead of him do most of the most of the work. That'll probably tell Oracle that the Kiwis are capable of generating more power than they need.

Wingsail trimmer, Glen Ashby is much the same, but below Tuke - again playing the switches and controls.

There's little conversation in the boat save for a countdown to the start of a tack, gybe or mark rounding.

Having followed a few tacks and gybes, the next thing is to start looking at how the AC50 is being sailed from a technical perspective.

The most surprising feature is how much the bottom of the wing sail is being trimmed in and out.

From the photo boat, where I've been every day of the regatta, the bottom of the wingsail hardly seems to move and looks to be sheeted near central up wind and down.

But when you are onboard you can see the bottom part of the wingsail is moving a lot and is constantly moving using the hydraulic power generated by the cyclors.

Then I looked up the rig, which was always one of the lasting memories from the time on the AC72. The wingsail was a living breathing beast as it was constantly shaped by the wingsail trimmer


The AC50 wingsail looks very flat in comparison, but clearly, the adjustments being tweaked by Ashby can be seen in the middle and top of the wing.

One disadvantage of being in the 'shotgun seat' is that it is very wet.

While the 360VR clip doesn't show a big splashdown which are a key moment for Cup photographers, there seems to be a lot of water coming through the centre of the trampoline - which was also the case on the AC72.

But if you look over at the crew while you're getting soaked, you can see they are missing the dowsing and pedalling hard.

A tap on the shoulder and my AC50 ride is over.

There's no doubt that 360VR is a game changer for the coverage of sailing especially - the reason being that the platform of the catamaran is sufficiently wide to give a realistic view out to either side of the boat, rather than just looking straight into the water passing by. Look to your right, and there is the crew working away in the starboard cockpits.

Look to your left, and there are the empty cockpits in the leeward hull.

When the crew tack or gybe the AC50 they run across the trampoline in front of you. You can see how Peter Burling reaches out to grab the slack wingsail sheet as he crosses. And if you look carefully you can see Glenn Ashby reach behind him to put a hand briefly on the AC50 wheel to keep control as the helmsman crosses the platform.

Of course, the next challenge will be to get 360VR to run in real-time - yes live. So instead of watching from afar, you will experience the race yourself, as it is happening on the Great Sound.

It doesn't take too much imagination to realise how 360VR would look like in an event like the Volvo Ocean Race when sailing fans can experience a ride through the Southern Ocean for themselves.

And yes, you'll be excused for wearing your wet-weather gear!

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