Oracle is debuting its global yacht race in Sydney tomorrow, adding digital sensors and data analysis to a fleet of what it says are the world’s fastest and most technologically advanced catamarans.

The inaugural SailGP race is different from traditional races because it combines standardisation with dynamic innovation, according to Oracle, which is providing the digital infrastructure, data management and analytics.

The tech giant also said it expects the 50 knot speed barrier will be broken by the racers on Sydney harbour as they vie for the $1 million winner take all prize.

Standardisation and innovation

The F50 yachts used by the national teams are identical in every non-aesthetic way, meaning the race will be decided by the skill of the sailors. Gaining an advantage for future will require analysing the data from Oracle’s 1,200 onboard sensors and cameras, according to Scott Newman, Oracle senior director, cloud platform and solution engineering, Australian and New Zealand.

“Each boat is exactly the same. So it all comes down to the skill of the crew on the day,” Newman said. “The crew being both the racers on the boat as well as the coaching and analysis of the support crew onshore.” 

Newman explained the sensors are collecting positioning, speed and status data of the yachts as well as biometric data of the crew.

“What that combination of input does is it generates information in realtime and also for later review in how you can test, improve, learn and apply.”

Scott Newman, Oracle senior director, cloud platform and solution engineering, Australian and New Zealand.

The sensors transmit data via an overhead helicopter back to shore which then uploads to the Oracle cloud and back to a host of applications for competitors, referees, media and fans. The whole process takes around 200 milliseconds, according to Newman.

But the pace of SailGP — races last around 20 minutes — means the value of the race data will come in a post race analysis, Newman said.

The same data can be augmented by experts to increase fan engagement, Newman said, logging and tagging of exciting events like when a boat is overtaken or capsizes for broadcasts and replays. The process can be further developed, Newman says, to become automated allowing spectators to identify tune in for the most exciting moments.

Oracle is also hoping the new approach can open up both sailing, a traditionally elite sport, and data science to a younger crowd. The tech giant is exploring how the same technology can be modified and applied to smaller boats for the consumer market.

“You can also drive collaboration around data and technology,” Newman said.

By opening up the data it becomes a learning tool and asset for all, Newman says, ultimately driving collaboration and better outcomes. The hope is that sailing, and sports more broadly, can be used as a medium for improving data practice and literacy in a way people can relate to, Newman said.

SailGP runs on February 15th and 16th on Sydney harbour.

This article has been edited to clarify sensor data is used primarily in post race analysis, not real time.

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