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America's Cup: What does a Mechatronics engineer do? A look under the hood of an AC75

by Dave Reed/Sailing World 2 May 2020 15:50 PDT 3 May 2020
Control systems are run through a multi-function controller with toggles and buttons - American Magic - Newport RI - October 2019 © Amory Ross / NYYC American Magic

Prestigious US magazine, Sailing World's Dave Reed checks out the systems you never see aboard an AC75.

Much of the magic of a big foiling monohull is in the precision controls and elaborate systems required for takeoff and flight. Here’s a guide to what’s happening under the hood of American Magic’s AC75.

“Mechatronics engineer.” That’s one job title that never existed back in the America’s Cup’s 12-Metre era. But today, every Cup team has a few on payroll. These are the unknown wizards tasked with ensuring that every adjustment on the AC75 is precise. From micro to macro, from the top of the rig to the tip of the foil flap, when and if someone presses a button or pushes a toggle on these complex flying beasts, something logical better happen, and it better be right. Such is the new high-tech domain of modern America’s Cup ­sailing, one in which software, hardware, electronics, hydraulics and human input interplay through intricate systems.

“It is the crux of performance,” says James Lyne, head coach of the New York YC’s American Magic challenge. “The Cup can be won or lost in these control systems.” Lyne, who analyzes every move and every adjustment the American Magic sailing team makes on board its AC75 Defiant, can see through 14 onboard cameras and a deluge of data streamed from the boat just how important this business of mechatronics is to getting up to speed and around the race track.

Let’s start with the big picture: Who does what on the boat?

We’ve split up the tasks of controlling the boat. Dean [Barker], the helmsman, has control of the wheel and various things, but his primary role is to steer the boat around the course. Paul [Goodison], as the mainsail trimmer, controls the shape of the mast and the [twin-skinned] mainsail. He also has some control of the jib. Andrew Campbell is then, ­effectively, in control of flight. From his position, he controls the foil cant, foil flap and ­rudder rake. Other people can also control those functions, but 99 percent of the time, three people effectively have control of the boat.

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