The Online Boating and Maritime Exhibition

#11 - Virtual and Augmented Reality

America’s Cup: The Technology in Front of Your Eye


America's Cup - Land Rover Ben Ainslie racing (Courtesy of Land Rover Bar)

When complicated stuff happens fast, you need help. New systems put the technology right in front of your eyes. Hefty America’s Cup budgets allow teams to use both virtual and augmented reality.


If you are into investing, you might want to look at virtual and augmented reality. And if you are into sailing, you should know that VR and AR are exploding into myriad mind-boggling products for both sailors and spectators.

Unsure of the difference between the two? VR is a computer-generated universe, while AR is the real world overlain with useful data.

VR is a computer-generated universe; AR is the real world overlain with useful data.

Early adopters of AR technology were the military and the medical sector. Fighter pilots have long used glasses with flight data in their line of sight. Some surgeons use the same system, as do race car drivers. The advantages are obvious for high-risk professionals—continuous access to critical information without removing their eyes from the task at hand.

In the nautical sector, one example is the Garmin Nautix handset, which places navigational data onto sun glasses. Skippers can see in their glasses online critical boat data and stay focused when they navigate (See the NauticExpo e-mag article on this product).

The AR Liveline Project

When it comes to sailing technology, the America’s Cup is where it happens first. For the 35th Cup around Bermuda, the spectacular, raw reality is augmented for the benefit of spectators around the world. And the professional sailors have data and graphic overlays to enhance their performance.

In the years preceding the 2013 Cup in San Francisco, race organizers understood that they had to take major steps to interest a wider audience. Oracle invested $20 million in the LiveLine project, headed by the superstar of sports media technology, Stan Honey.

 The LiveLine AR system helps viewers follow the intense action of the AC (Courtesy of Stan Honey)

The LiveLine AR system helps viewers follow the intense action of the AC (Courtesy of Stan Honey)

The result was a stunning example of AR. High-resolution video with graphics overlays showed in a simple, easily comprehensible way what was really happening on the water.

LiveLine was a key factor in making the race a success.

The most important feature was a set of lines across the race course, perpendicular to the wind direction, continuously indicating the distance between competitors. LiveLine also showed the laylines and circles around the marks, where specific rules apply.

Core information, including speed and foiling percentage, was also available. The GPS positioning of the boats was so precise that the system had to be authorized by US military authorities. Course judges, who have the power to impose immediate penalties, also used the tool to improve decisions. LiveLine changed the perception of the sport and was a key factor in making the race a success.

VR’s America’s Cup Presence

VR’s America’s Cup presence goes back to 1992. Virtual Eye 3D graphics made it possible to explain sailing to the audience in a new way. Virtual Eye still delivers technology packages to America’s Cup events, now with tracking.

It can show an entire race course, including marks, laylines, advantage lines and distances between the boats. Virtual Eye also displays timing information from starts, mark rounding and finishes. All of this information is available in real-time for immediate review and post-race analysis.

Virtual skippers at the America's Cup (Courtesy of Gamespot)

Virtual skippers at the America’s Cup (Courtesy of Gamespot)

VR technology offers multiplayer environments, interactive displays and more. VR games give fans a whiff of the action, but are also used for training. They offer helmsman, tactician and crew a way to test maneuvers and perfect interactions. The shipping industry also uses VR for training purposes.

As today’s foiling sailboats crisscross the water in 30-40 knots of wind on short courses, sailors are suddenly in situations not unlike those faced by fighter pilots. Hefty America’s Cup budgets allow teams to use both VR and AR. Virtual reality also can be used to test boat modifications before actual on-water trials.

About the Author

Øyvind Bordal is a Norwegian writer and sailor, based in Denmark and Caribbean.

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