Closer look at Racer's Edge, BMW Oracle's cutting edge wind measurement device
When we read the press release from Catch the Wind that they were providing BMW Oracle with a laser sensor that could measure the wind up to 1,000 meters ahead, we were intrigued. So, Valencia Sailing spoke with Phil Rogers, CEO and President of the company, who shed more light on the device that reads the wind not where you are but where you are going.
Valencia Sailing: Let's start with a brief background. Where are you located, when was your company founded and what does it do?
Phil Rogers: Our company is called Catch the Wind and was founded in 2008. It's a spinoff from a company my wife and I founded back in 1990 in order to capitalize on telecommunications fiber optics technology to develop a fiber optic-based laser wind sensors, at that time for aerospace applications. Catch the Wind was founded in order to commercialize that laser wind sensor mainly for the wind energy industry, for wind turbine control. We were able to develop and miniaturize this technology into the handheld laser wind sensor which we call the Racer's Edge for sailing applications.
Valencia Sailing: What deal do you have with BMW Oracle?
Phil Rogers: We launched our product and we are an official supplier to BMW Oracle. They have the first commercial unit of our product and they are currently using it in Valencia.
Valencia Sailing: What does the Racer's Edge exactly do?
Phil Rogers: It's a laser device, about the size of a large pair of binoculars, that can measure the wind up to a distance of 1,000 meters in multiple ranges, enabling to you to get a map of the wind up to 1,000 meters, at multiple ranges. So, a sailing team has a tactical advantage because they can see where the best wind is, one kilometer ahead of them.
Racer's Edge measures wind speed and direction at 400m, 700m and 1,000m ahead. As a result, you just point the device where you want to and you'll get wind speed and direction along that line of sight in those three different distances. You just push the fire button and you instantaneously know that data at those three different distances. The intervals (400m, 700m and 1,000m) of this particular device BMW Oracle are using have been preset at the factory but it's something that can be adjusted.
The device has Bluetooth wireless capability, so it can be connected to an onboard computer and this is the way they are using it now. It will also have its own PDA display that can be mounted on the unit, on a wrist wrap or any other spot on the yacht. So, it can either display by itself or interface to a computer on the boat.
It also has a wing-profiling mode, depending on how far up you point it. If you point at different angles up from the horizon it will also provide a vertical profile of the wind. So, depending on where you point it, you'll get a horizontal and a vertical profile of the wind. There's two modes of operation.
The Racer's Edge, BMW Oracle's cutting-edge wind measurement device
Valencia Sailing: Is this device custom-made for BMW Oracle or is the first piece of a commercial product?
Phil Rogers: It's a combination. It has some features that we worked with BMW Oracle, that we were specifically asked to incorporate, especially in the software side, but it was basically something that we built to our own specifications as a general device for yacht racing.
Valencia Sailing: How much does it cost?
Phil Rogers: The model BMW Oracle is currently using is called the Racer's Edge Professional Model. It is the very top of the line, high end version of the device with cutting-edge technology, a lot of built-in features specifically for the very high-end professional sailors and is offered for sale at US$ 149,500. It's not only aimed at yacht racing but some of the top cruising yachts could certainly benefit from this technology. We will have in the very near future, other models of this device, including one much more geared towards the general sailor.
Valencia Sailing: Can you explain the basic physics behind a laser wind sensor? How does it work?
Phil Rogers: The basic physics principle is one of the first uses of laser back in the 1960's, called Laser Doppler Velocimetry. A laser is actually just a single pure color of light. We take a laser beam and shine it up in the air. The air has a lot of particles, for example in the maritime environment there is salt spray and water droplets. All these particles move with the air and change the color of the laser light very slightly, due to the Doppler Principle. If you listen to a truck in the highway or a train at a railroad crossing, the pitch of the sound changes as they go by. This is also due to the Doppler Principle. The same thing happens with radar and light. The moving particles change the frequency of the light, which means its color. What we do is measure the change in the color of the light and get a direct measurement of wind speed and direction.
This technology has been around since the 1960's but we have been able to miniaturize it using fiber optics technology and developed the first ever handheld laser wind sensor. There are other types of laser wind measurement devices but they are very large, heavy and bulky to put on a sailing yacht. The Racer’s Edge is the only device that has specifically been developed for marine applications. It weighs 18 lbs (8.2kg) and a sailor can wear it around his neck.
Valencia Sailing: How accurate is it?
Phil Rogers:It is a very accurate device. We have achieved a 0.5-knot accuracy in wind speed measurement and a 2-degree accuracy in wind direction measurement. In addition, accuracy is affected neither by the speed of the vessel nor the speed of the wind. The device has been also tested in a full marine environment with salt spray, fog, high waves, strong winds and none of these factors affects its accuracy. It is an inherent property and is only due its mechanism.
Valencia Sailing: Have you tested it on BMW Oracle's yacht in Valencia?
Phil Rogers: Yes we have and it worked perfectly. Last week we had a team from our company in Valencia working together with BMW Oracle's sailing team. They had very successful trials and as far as we know they are very happy with it.
The Racer's Edge handheld device is actually a natural extension of our laser wind sensing products that we developed for the wind power industry, called the Vindicator Laser Wind Sensor, which also have applications to sailing and yachting. They are similar to Racer's Edge but they are mounted devices. Actually, BMW Oracle has a Vindicator device mounted onboard their weather boat. The only difference with the racing yacht is that they didn't want a handheld device.
Valencia Sailing: Could the laser beam be harmful to the crew of the yacht or its competitors on the race course?
Phil Rogers: No, not at all. The device is perfectly eye-safe and has been specifically designed to meet all eye safety standards. It will not cause any harm whatsoever to others.
The Racer's Edge, BMW Oracle's cutting-edge wind measurement device