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Technology feeds the need for speed

Technology feeds the need for speed

It’s just two weeks until yachting’s biggest and oldest contest, The America’s Cup, starts in Bermuda. We’ve been supporting the Land Rover Ben Ainslie Racing team carrying hopes of a first British triumph. In the first of a series of blogs counting down to the event, ex British Olympic rower Adam Freeman-Pask, now one of our consultants, looks at the technology that could decide the winner.

In sport, as in business, lots of ingredients go in to creating a winning formula. But technology is becoming a more and more prominent one. Especially in sailing. The America’s Cup may be the world’s oldest sporting trophy, but the contest runs on some of its newest technology.

If you’d taken your eyes off this event since the early 1980s, you’d scarcely recognise it now. Where boats with lead monohulls used to move through the water at 10mph, sleek foiling catamarans now skim over it up to five times faster. That’s as quick as a powerboat. Not for nothing do people talk about this as the Formula 1 of the sea.

From the materials the boats, sails and crew’s clothing are made of, to the sensors sending real-time data to support teams, technology is behind that transformation. All six America’s Cup contenders are bristling with it. It’s fair to say that without it, they’d be nowhere.

PA has been right in the thick of it. We’ve headed the Technology Innovation Group that’s put the weight of British know-how behind Team Land Rover BAR’s epic challenge. Brains from telecoms and defence, among others, have been plotting how to give our boat the edge. (All within the rules, of course.)

The group has developed a virtual version of the chase boat that used to have to try to keep up with the competition yacht. Now the laptops and radios are safely on dry land but still connected to the action, and helping to orchestrate it.

Borrowing from hearing aid technology, bone-conducting speakers built in to the crew’s helmets help them communicate clearly without earpieces. When they speak, the words go to their colleagues’ ears through their skulls, not through the air. Handy when there’s only time to say things once.

Hearing about this from the support team has brought back a few memories. My own sport, rowing, is also touched by tech. Preparing for competitions like London 2012, technology gave us instant feedback on our training. Carbon-fibre boats were many times more sensitive to our movements than wooden ones. And aerodynamic vortex generators adapted from aircraft helped the blades of our oars cut through the air and grip the water, taking vital fractions of seconds off our times.

But at the centre of all this science, it’s still humans (like serial gold medallist Sir Ben Ainslie no less) calling the shots, making split-second decisions and using their judgement.

That rings true for us at PA. As Phil White, PA Technology Innovation Expert and Chairman of the Technology Innovation Group says, technology is a tool, but it’s people who decide how to use it.

‘Technology does often make the difference in business. It could be a faster payments system to make split-second financial trades, or cloud-based data centres that mean customers get a great experience buying online. But ultimately it’s about the people making the decisions, buying the tech to suit their needs and rolling it out in the right way. You need to get all those things right for success.’

And, as in business, success in sport is also about the mind. I’ll write about that next time.

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