Monday, January 25, 2010

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

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22 Comments:

At 2:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amazing!

This technical innovation helps to emphasise the driving force of the Americas cup -- Advantage in design at any cost.

I think it is representative of the inherent good in every cup cycle. I a confident it has been worth waiting for!

 
At 5:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

El aparato tiene buena pinta, lastima que este prohibido durante la competicion este tipo de ayudas a la navegacion.

 
At 6:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, could SA 17 rig 9 of these directed @ the 9 segments of the wing to determine airflow & therefore get the be best from the 'wing', just another 'million'!!, or because it only has half knot accuracy, would not be that great. There mst be some thing for each of the 9 segments, surely? (not just telltales)

 
At 9:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, & planes too, was that a backward or upside down step!!

Feel this is a perfect venue to put up some balloons/airships, just think of the 'filming' from such a steady platform.

They could be anchored like those things they had in the last cup, floating in the water, with picture takers.....

 
At 9:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can it be used during the match?

 
At 12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

por qué está prohibido? no es ayuda exterior. Es un sistema de medición de viento que se lleva en el barco.
Otra cosa distinta es si se debería prohibir o no...

 
At 1:21 PM, Anonymous Umpire said...

12.00

I think you will find that it banned because it uses lasers, which are excluded in the revised Sailing Intructions. I stand to be corrected though.

 
At 2:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am sure E.B. will try to ban it.
But stop, I thought it is all about technology and anything goes. Wasn't that Alinghis line of argument when getting the engine allowed in this AC?

 
At 6:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When Ernesto found out that BMW had this system, he banned in his racing instructions alright... But he forgot to ban his silly airplanes. That talks a great deal about his sportmanship.

 
At 6:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr Rogers has Alinghi used this devise? I think you will find the answer is YES all the best with it......

 
At 8:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is not that cutting edge... in other industries, this sort of thing is standard.

 
At 1:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And why can't these cutting edge boats use lasers? Let's hear it from the International Jury, if there is one.

 
At 6:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only issue with anyone else having planes or balloons is that Alinghi has closed the airspace over the race to all other aircraft below 2000m. It seems that Alinghi and only Alinghi can measure windspeed at a point other than at one of the boats in the race. As Orwell said, ...some animals are more equal than others.
- - The Fool

 
At 9:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can you please tell the people the real story and not only half of it....

 
At 9:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

...and who did pay the development costs? Tell the truth!

 
At 9:59 AM, Blogger Mark said...

The evolution of boats under sail going fast, faster and fastest is the best outcome of this AC cycle.

The fact that only 2 teams are sailing 1 boat each is the the down side of this match.

The hired hands of our sport deserve a fleet of durable AC boats. A fleet that will last several life times.

Call Buddy Melges and order a fleet of Melges 70's. Any one that has sailed a Melges 24 should be able senses how awesome the 70 will be.

As a sport, as a participant, the only time that matters is the time we are sailing.

SHUT UP AND SAIL

 
At 11:09 AM, Anonymous Yoyo said...

I have read "Communications" chapter of the Notice Of Race. It says that only "lasers, radar or other detection equipment for measuring the
relative position of the opponents yacht" are permited.

So, I think this system would not be allowed by the NOR.

 
At 12:23 PM, Blogger mike said...

I am amazed that no-one has twigged this is a spoof. Apart from anything else dopler would only work up or down wind to get a frequency differential.

This is an area where a great deal of time and money has been spent in the aviation industry in an effort to detect wind shear ahead of landing aircraft, and as far as I know has not been cracked yet.

 
At 2:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

15 yeras ago we used this method to make contact-free measurement of the speed profile of a wind tunnel. You need to have two crossing laser beams which will cause an interference pattern where they cross. This interference (wave) pattern is very precise because Laser light has a very distinct frequency. Once you have particles flying through this pattern, they will pass this wave pattern at a certain freuency. This frequency is measured by a back-reflection and you can then calculate the speed very easily. I wonder however how this is being done in 1 km distance, when the laser beams sources are only a couple of cm apart. The area of interference must be very large or at least unprecise, or the beams must be very thinn. Plus I don´t know how to detect speed AND direction...

 
At 2:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One day it will not only possible to measure a certain point ahead but to scan a whole volume. Given this information, this will automatically be fed into an optimization sofware optimizing boat speed by finding the best course and the right sail settings..... After all that we will finally have reached the point where the boat can race alone and we can stay at home... So the question is: what actually makes sailing interesting and where do we go???

 
At 4:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mark, if you are asking everybody else to "shut up and sail" I would like to suggest that you also shut up and sail or, if you can't sail, at least shut up...

 
At 6:35 PM, Anonymous Umpire said...

4.31

Where did all that agression come from, good lunch was it?. At least he does not remain anomymous

 

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