Oracle sailing

SAN FRANCISCO — One of the most high-profile spots you’ll find the Oracle logo is on the sailing vessels that compete in the America’s Cup.

The success of the team Oracle CTO Larry Ellison established in 2000 is a major source of price for the company, which was evident in the enthusiasm generated by the sailors at the company's annual user conference here this week.

Data-Driven Design

At OpenWorld yesterday, the company showcased how Team USA members use sophisticated analytical tools to beat the competition. Next year, Oracle Team USA will travel to Bermuda to defend its title at the 35th America's Cup after winning the past two editions.

Since 2010, sailing competitions have become increasing dependent on data driven design and real-time analytics "to build faster boats, train better athletes, and win more challenging races," Oracle maintains.

This fact was made crystal clear during a conference session at the Moscone Center with Team USA members, who explained the intricacies of “Data Driven Design for Extreme Performance.”

Analyzing Data for Better Performance

As Oracle notes, the "old way" of racing — largely dependent on experience and intuition — has been eclipsed by more objective, measurable and technology inspired thinking.

According to Ian “Fresh” Burns, the performance director for Team USA, the team rushes to a debriefing room to analyze data that’s compiled from multiple sensors attached to the boat after each training session.

“It used to be just how much data could be fitted on one of those large, 12-inch floppy disks,” he said. “Now we collect 1TB of data each day.”

The data is measured and scrutinized for insights on optimal performance. Kurt Jordan, the structural engineer for Team USA, said the constant process of trying different configurations for the boats and analyzing test runs is as important as the physical training and regular practice.  

“It's a scientific test bed for us,” Jordan said, noting there are about 150 Internet of Things (IoT) connected sensors on the boat. "We’re able to look at things like the wind speed, boat speed, wind angle, and so many other elements of our sailboat racing runs.”

Real-Time Data Collection

The chief designer for Team USA, Aaron Perry, offered anecdotes to demonstrate how a competitive sailing is more like an Odyssey of the Mind competition than a typical sports event.

“The data collection and testing happens in real time," he said. Within a few minutes of finishing a race, the sailing team is crowded around the data "and looking at how we can be making changes to improve performance."

A final anecdote illustrated how the team has had faith in its data efforts even in the face of what seemed like imminent defeat. Although the team was significantly behind in points, analysis of several factors about the upcoming race assured it of victory.

"We made a long list of potential things to change and we worked through them. By the time we were ready for the next day everyone was confident and really happy and looked like they were going on a picnic with their family," Jordan said. The team did, in fact, win.