Those amazing images of foilers flat out, raising delicate, directed spumes of spray remind us that sailing is in the midst of a new sporting and technological era. But behind the flying, foiling revolution there is another, perhaps less visible paradigm shift, the explosion of data.
“It really was the arrival of the Ultims and their high frequency sensors that changed everything”, explains Olivier Douillard, who is in charge of performance within the Gitana Team. A “simple, straightforward” boat generates around thirty sources of data; an Ultim, which has about 120 measurement points on board thanks to fibre optics, produces 750 different data sources. On a round the world circumnavigation this represents 37 billion data against about 8 million for a stage of the Solitaire du Figaro!
After more than 25 years spent at the highest level – two Olympic preparations, two America’s Cups, many years at North Sails and Adrena, – Olivier Douillard, 52, founded AIM45 to develop M2, a collaborative data analysis platform. “Our objective is to transform a data flow into objective information which is accessible to all, in order to optimize performance”, he summarizes.
In addition to the classic sensors – anemometer, wind vane, compass, speedo, GPS – modern boats measure the heel, trim, rigging loads, the hull and appendage deformations, the actual positions of the appendages, and so on. But what is there to do with all of this? “There is such a volume of data that the risk of missing out on the really relevant, important information is quite high”, points out Olivier Douillard. “There is an incredible wealth of information there that can be overlooked.”
Yes, the biggest Imoca and Ultims teams have their own dedicated resources, but this is far from being the case for all teams, and even less so for racers in Mini, Figaro, Class40 or Multi50. Hence Douillard’s idea of designing a tool that automates the very time-consuming processing of data collected during sailing and that including the notes and photos that are circulated on the Whatsapp or other networks.
M2 therefore offers usable information at the end of the sailing period during a timeline which previously was exclusive to engineers. “The data is centralized, accessible online as soon as you return to shore to all the project stakeholders: sailors, coach, design office, architects, data and performance analysts, service providers”, specifies Olivier Douillard. “This collaborative layer is crucial, it helps to advance collective knowledge.”
Some Examples ? “For the Vendée Globe competitors, knowing precisely the history of the loads on their foils, and setting the alarms according to these loads will allow them to wane during the stressful phases that await them in the South: as long as their alarms are not going then it is knowing the boats is fine that keeps the stress on the sailor lower“, explains Olivier Douillard. “The data recorded by the tool allows to us objectify sensations without having to break into the files manually. ”
Data can also play their role in a less technical setting: a Figarist who wishes to sort out his feelings and his real performances after a long day of training; a Minist looking for accurate polars; an IRC crew who wants to understand their speed on a close reach: “All team members can have access to the track and associated data at that same time.” assures Douillard. “The helm talks of his sensations, the trimmers of main and genoa transmit their settings and the bowman adds the photo of the mast setting! ” Accessible by subscription, M2 is sized according to the needs of the project.
Knee-deep in data – he is working on the diversification of AIM45 towards other complementary fields such as wind turbines, freighters, digital machines, Douillard – whose full AIM45 team is fluent in English and works with DMG Mori – awaits the Vendée Globe with impatience: “Until here, we did not know how to analyze the data for a complete round the world race, but we are not limited by the volume, so we will be able to replay it as soon as they finish! ”