By SUSAN LAHEY
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
“Every day of the racing season, beginning to end, we manufacture a new part every 17 minutes,” said Ben Heatly, spokesman for McLaren. “That includes coming up with the idea, testing it in the virtual world, testing it again and adding it to the car.”
Talk about an accelerator.
Tech Transfer from racing cars to healthcare
The second annual U.S. Grand Prix for F1 racing takes place this weekend at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin.
The event emphasizes the strong ties between Austin and the United Kingdom.
“F1 has a strong British heritage – the UK is, in fact, the cradle of modern motorsport. Given that the US Grand Prix in Austin is already massively popular with the F1 teams and drivers, it’s obvious Texans share our passion for motorsport,” according to British Consul General Andrew Millar.
Technology being developed for the automotive industry also generates advancements for healthcare, energy, transportation and other industries.
Geoff McGrath, McLaren’s managing director, Naresh Chouhan, marketing director for Truphone and Edgar Farrera, director of sustainability for the Circuit of the Americas, spoke Thursday in a presentation led by tech entrepreneur and mentor Fred Schmidt about the technologies involved in making the F1 races the high performance events that they are and how those technologies are spun out to other applications.
Among the applications McLaren is trying to proliferate is expanding the biometrics it uses to help drivers improve their personal performance to predict illness, as well as optimize performance for athletes and executives.
“People don’t care how many steps they took. They don’t care how many calories they burned. Most people don’t know what a calorie is,” McGrath said. “The challenge we’re trying to address here is, when you get up in the morning, what would you have to do to get into optimum condition for that meeting?”
In addition, he said, the company is working with GSK on technology to help predict health problems in later life and to identify issues in bodies before symptoms of illness manifest. Right now, he said, the technology is not in a form most people will adopt.
McLaren worked with many athletes for the London Olympics on their physical and mental performance as well as their performance in the vehicle they competed in. For example, they built sensors into oars of Olympic rowing teams during training to help rowers understand the precise angle and force at which athletes should put their oars in the water for the best results.
“Athletes don’t like gimmicks,” he said. “But if you can give them an edge in sport, they’ll work with you.” That includes designing a bicycle with chassis similar to a high performance car’s that not only recognizes the size and shape of the person using the bike (McGrath compared the composition of the rider to a bag of fluid) but also the terrain the bike is navigating.
In other arenas, McLaren has partnered with data center company IO in Phoenix, to reduce data center energy consumption. Part of that, McGrath said, is applying predictive and prescriptive analytics used in designing racecars to adapt to track conditions and other circumstances.
“We need to be able to measure what we want to manage,” McGrath said. “If there’s a spike in energy what’s causing it? Is it the Goldman Sachs trading floor kicking in—a real example? And if so how can we make that intervention, what will be the outcome of our intervention?”
Can You Hear Me Now?
Naresh Chouhan of Truphone spoke about his company’s revolutionary mobile phone system used by the Caterham F1 team. Truphone has a global network but also works via Wi-Fi and automatically finds the best channel through which to funnel communication, anywhere in the world.
“F1 teams actually transmit roughly 200 gigabytes of data each day for each car, then they make changes, tweaks during the night,” Chouhan said. There are more than 100 mobile users on the team and in a typical month they would transmit 4,300 texts including 3.3 GB of data. If a part wears out, for example, they need to be able to send a photo, fast. To be able to communicate quickly is crucial to improving performance. But since they travel to so many different countries, they previously had to deal with exorbitant roaming costs, changing numbers depending on what country they were in, or being unable to get on the network in places like Singapore, where the networks are flooded.
With Truphone, a user can have several international numbers on one phone that will all be routed to a single number, and the system will find the best network to use. “It’s the same in Spain as it is in Poland. I don’t have to change my behavior wherever I go.”
The phone has saved the team 30 percent on its global, mobile phone bills—money it has pumped back into development.
The final speaker was Edgar Farrera, Circuit of the America’s director of sustainability who talked about the challenges of “greening” F1.
When asked whether it was important for F1 to pioneer growth in green technologies, Farrera said, 64 percent of F1 fans surveyed said yes. When they asked if they supported green technologies that would change that F1 rumble of the engines to be like the much quieter Formula E cars, only 39 percent said yes.
There are many ways that F1 designers could continue to improve performance while making more environmentally friendly choices, and F1 has already moved toward hybrid engines that consume half the fuel their predecessors did, Farrera said. But part of the issue is evolving the Formula 1 fan base.
“We don’t believe that being green compromises performance. We’re seeing that the use of hybrid technology is producing race winning cars,” McGrath said.
The goal of F1 is to inspire through innovation. And being green is part of that. But with all these minute tweaks, is perfection attainable?
“I suppose we always aspire to perfection but in most real world examples you never get there,” he said. “ You reach what is called an asymptotic curve here’s the bar of perfection at the early days of innovation make great strides every year or with every attempt. Then as you get closer you reach what is called in laymen’s terms, the area of diminishing returns. You make marginal gains. But that’s exactly where we’re competing right now in racing, in Olympic sports–those tiny incremental gains. Now, when you talk about self care and health…we’re right at the bottom.”
And that’s what the F1 Tech Rally is all about.