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America's Cup: Too much information?

by Richard Gladwell Sail-World NZ 28 Nov 2018 01:55 PST 28 November 2018
One of the key points of interest with 5G mobile technology is whether it will no longer be necessary to have chase boats loaded with analysts and engineers who will be able to see everything from ashore. © Richard Gladwell

The announcement last week that the 36th America's Cup set down for 2020/2021 would be a showcase event for the new 5G mobile protocol has raised a few issues which will need to be resolved between the teams.

Spark, an Emirates Team New Zealand partner and New Zealand's largest internet service provider, announced last week that it would be establishing a 5G test laboratory in Auckland.

The new 5G protocol which promises to offer substantially faster internet speeds (with some claims of 20 times faster than the existing 4G technology) as well as increased bandwidth, is not planned to be launched anywhere in the world until March 2019.

Spark aims to have its test lab up and running after the planned second release in March 2020. They plan to have a 5G network up and running on the Waitemata Harbour in July 2020.

The new technology is expected to open the doors to improved fan experience through applications such as 360 Video, allowing fans to see a 360-degree view from a position on the after crossbeam of the foiling AC75 - as though they were part of the crew.

Other less technology demanding applications will include better race statistics and viewing onto mobile devices aimed at fans who are at the America's Cup course venue.

For the teams, the 5G technology may allow the AC75 to be monitored in real time from the team bases in a similar way to F1 teams in the pits on Grand Prix circuits, where they have more information available that the drivers, and can feed information and instructions back to the driver.

Under the Racing Rules, this constitutes outside assistance which is illegal during racing. However, it is not prohibited for feedback to go back to a chase boat and be relayed to the race boat between races. Also during training and testing there can be a direct link between the team base ashore and the race boat.

That will probably mean fewer people on the chase boats and quicker, data-based, as opposed to visually based analysis.

One group keen and well placed to be on the leading edge of 5G and the America's Cup is Dunedin based Animation Research Ltd, better known as ARL, who have been the world leaders in sports graphics and animation for almost 30 years.

ARL developed the first graphics system to be driven by GPS data transmitted ashore from the America's Cup yachts in 1991/92 and has been involved in every America's Cup since.

"5G is a great opportunity for us," ARL's Ian Taylor told Sail-World from Las Vegas, where ARL's golf application is being deployed at "The Match" involving golf greats Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.

"The Spark lab will answer a lot of unanswered questions for us regarding 5G", he said.

With a well-developed product that is has known performance in a 4G environment, ARL's initial plan is to run the real-time animation under 5G and pick the gains and challenges over 4G.

"We are used to running our application under 4G in a lot of sailing environments, so we have plenty of benchmarks, and we should be able to see the differences quite quickly."

"However it is going to be very early days under quite demanding circumstances", he added. "It won't take long to figure out."

The keys will be testing the speed difference and latency with 5G over the older technology, and also the volume of data that can be transmitted without impacting performance.

The answers to those questions will then determine what existing applications can be used and how new applications will be developed.

ARL developed both a 360VR application ( an immersive virtual experience that told the story of the America’s Cup) and a 360 Video application which was run during the 2017 America's Cup in Bermuda. The system which was not publicly released involved shooting video using a cluster of nine Go-Pro cameras and then stitching the images together ashore to produce the video. Since then several commercially made 360 video camera devices have come on the market.

The point of 360VR and 360 Video is that the viewer watches using a pair of 360 Goggles which are relatively inexpensive or even a similar viewer made from cardboard which holds a mobile phone screen. The viewer controls the view by turning their head to look at their boat or the competitor and can look behind, ahead up, down and sideways - with a seamless view.

While that is great for the fans, it does create a surveillance issue for the competing teams in that it allows their opposition to literally jump aboard a competitor's yacht, see how they handle a particular move and then copy or adjust their technique.

Currently, the best that can be done is to spot something from a chase boat or study video or still images, and then try and marry this visual impression up with the data ashore.

Broadcast video is virtually useless as shots are seldom held at a constant angle for sufficient duration to be able spot significant differences with any accuracy.

A bone of contention in recent Cups has always been whether the Defending team has been able to get access to additional video shot by the Host Broadcaster, that doesn't make the on-air presentation. The allegation is robustly denied, but the suspicion remains.

ARL's Chris Carpenter sets up one of two 360VR cameras used on Emirates Team NZ and Oracle Team USA to produce the new sailing viewer experience. - photo © ARL Media <a target=www.arl.co.nz/" />
ARL's Chris Carpenter sets up one of two 360VR cameras used on Emirates Team NZ and Oracle Team USA to produce the new sailing viewer experience. - photo © ARL Media www.arl.co.nz/

However, 360 Video is an entirely different story due to the viewer/competitor being able to play in review mode and look for a specific feature on the opposing boat and maybe can obtain an insight into their current sailing issues.

Reviewing the Emirates Team NZ onboard 360 video from a semi-final in Bermuda presented a completely different view than even from a chase boat, as the 360 view gave away how the crew were sailing the AC50.

Ian Taylor believes the combination of 5G, the Spark Lab, and the America's Cup can benefit the New Zealand information technology industry.

"Having the ability to work with 5G so early is a huge opportunity for New Zealand to push ahead if Spark can get the Government to allocate the spectrum they require quickly."

Taylor says Emirates Team NZ Grant Dalton, who also is CEO of America's Cup Events until 2020 is keen to see the maximum use of 5G and the applications like 360 Video - running with live data. However, delivery of the application will be dependent on many factors, not the least of which will be how the technology infrastructure copes with the sudden load of hundreds of thousands of viewers tuning in for the first race.

In past America's Cups, despite all the sophisticated testing it has proved impossible to simulate the first race-day load, and the outcome is either server crashes, or slower than expected speed, resulting in the application running several seconds in delay behind the live video.

The technical term for this delay is "latency" which is one area in which 5G is expected to offer a significant gain over existing technologies, and will probably be the single telling factor in determining the applications that can be delivered live or in delay for the 36th America's Cup.

Taylor says the final call on that will be one for the organisers.

"There are all sorts of technology coming available", he explains, "including augmented graphics. We also have to work out the best way to shoot, and then how do we use 5G to get that video back ashore?"

To see more on 360 Video and 360VR click here

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