F1 leads way in using telemetry to monitor cars Print
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Wednesday, 13 July 2011 07:25
 MONTREAL (AP) - With Formula One cars reaching staggering speeds, the technology used to track them is moving ever faster.
Everything from speed to gear changes to tire pressure is recorded by the car's many sensors and streamed live to engineers on site or even back at the team's headquarters.
Driver feedback is still important, but the sport is increasingly dependent on telemetry - the measurement and transmission of data - for the safe operation of the cars, said Alex Burns, CEO of Williams F1.
``Yes, we can operate without it, the car will still drive,'' he said. ``But we would be very concerned without it because we can't monitor key features related to the safety of the car.''
NASCAR isn't nearly as wed to the technology, forbidding telemetry during races to highlight the human element in racing, says technology analyst Matthew Robison.
``NASCAR is focused on minimizing what can be done with technology during races in order to make the events more interesting to the consumer,'' said Robison, senior analyst at Wunderlich Securities in San Francisco and a part-time racecar driver.
``There's a whole different level of human factors in NASCAR involving the ability of driver and crew chief to communicate and assess conditions that might be much more easily understood with the telemetry allowed by other types of auto racing,'' he said.
``I think most would argue there's a premium for the human factor that doesn't exist in Formula One. Meanwhile, Formula One represents the ultimate for equipment performance, which means more technology, and there will always be an audience for that.''
Telemetry has been used for more than 20 years in F1, Burns said at the Canadian Grand Prix last month in Montreal, where Williams' drivers Pastor Maldonado and Rubens Barrichello finished outside the top 10 in a race won by McLarens' Jenson Button.
Each team has engineers monitoring data at a bank of computers track side and also inside their garages.
``For example, if a tire is losing pressure because it has a slow puncture, that's a potential safety hazard,'' Burns said. ``So they will call in the car in order to change the tires.''
Faster and more advanced wireless networks are allowing F1 teams to get even more precise information about a car's performance, including details on things such as aerodynamics and how many degrees the driver turns the steering wheel.
Burns said 10 times as much data on the cars is being generated compared with five or six years ago. About 30 gigabytes of data, or about 6.5 hours' worth, is streamed during a race weekend.
Williams F1 has worked with AT&T to increase the speed at which data gets transmitted from the track to its technical support team at its headquarters in the Britain. Williams says its network transmits the data 25 times faster than a standard broadband setup.
The technology has helped cut down on the number of support staff traveling with F1 teams, as well as the cost, he said.
``There's still a set number of guys in the pit stop,'' Burns said. ``We haven't been able to virtualize that.''
Anthony Lacavera, chief executive of Wind Mobile, said F1 is breaking new ground with the amount of data being streamed.
Lacavera said advanced Long-Term Evolution wireless networks being launched globally, which are ideal for large amounts of data, also will change how F1 is watched from the stands.
``Imagine that you're sitting at the race and you have a tablet and you can basically cut to a live feed from the helmet of every driver,'' Lacavera said from Toronto.
Still, some old-fashioned ways persist in F1.
Sign boards with race times and remaining laps are held up track side for drivers to see, in case more modern communications fail.


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