Larry Ellison, co-founder of Oracle, competed and won the 33rd America’s Cup and promptly set his sights on improving the television graphics—and therefore the viewer experience for future races.
“Larry contacted Stan to try and up the TV graphics for the America’s Cup,” Milnes said. “Sailing doesn’t get much television coverage. Sailing is a difficult sport to cover on television and hard to understand for non-sailors.”
But Ellison was hoping to change all of that, envisioning improved television graphics that would lead to additional viewers for the sport and increased television exposure.
“Larry’s vision was to make sailing a real commercial property. If you can improve the entertainment value, which really means improve the television, then the popularity can go up. Rather than it just being a niche sport, you can have a league, and make it an ongoing sport,” said Milnes, Live Graphics Project Manager at America’s Cup Event Authority.
“So he reached out to Stan and myself to improve the TV graphics.”
“When we made this proposal, we said, ‘Look, we’ve built systems that barely worked before because of technical limitations, and it’s a nightmare.’ So, if we’re going to do this we’re going to have good equipment. We’re going to go to the top of the line to make sure that the navigation works extremely well,” he said.
The team put together a wish list of equipment that included NovAtel’s SPAN® GNSS/INS, NovAtel’s OEM GNSS receiver and ProPak6™ receivers.
A NovAtel SPAN system was placed on each race boat. RTK ProPak6 receivers were placed on the mark boats, boats along the race course in which the racers sail around. The RTK ProPak6 systems are also used by the support boats, the race marshal boats and the race’s committee boat. This equipment provides the navigation solutions for the entire race.
“For the race boats we needed to know their positions and we needed to know the attitude, the pitch, roll and yaw of the boat,” said Milnes, “People would traditionally measure the yaw or the heading of the boat using a compass.”
With a lot of work, using a compass on a boat, you might be able to get the angle to within about one degree, explains Milnes. But these projects require far greater accuracy.
“We needed 10 times better accuracy, for several reasons, so that’s why we went with the instruments from NovAtel,” he said. “Typically, if you go to a lower quality it’s difficult to measure the heading of an object using just IMU [Inertial Measurement Unit]. If you go to a low grade IMU you can’t get good heading.”
Initially the goal was primarily to improve the TV graphics. But once the team knew it had such precise accuracy, it was determined that the navigation technology also could improve the way the race officials tracked and scored the events.
“It became apparent that the accuracy was good; that we had centimetre level positioning and a tenth of a degree heading, and that the umpires could use the data,” Milnes said. “In sailing, typically the way that you umpire a race is that you have the umpires on boats, on the water and they follow the boats.”
But as the catamarans used in America’s Cup became faster and faster in recent years, it became difficult for the race umpires to closely monitor things like course boundaries, minor collisions and penalties.
“In the America’s Cup the way the boats evolved to where we have these very fast catamarans, and with the way the rules were it was going to be impossible for the umpires to run the race just being on the water,” he
These updated rules, along with Ellison’s objective, are designed to bring the racing very close to the shore so that the spectators can see it. Again, trying to make this more of an entertainment property.