The dramatic increase in speed when the America’s Cup changed from monohulls travelling at about 10mph to multihulls travelling at up to 60mph has made many new demands on the crews. One of them is that everything now happens a lot faster, so the time available for the helmsman to take his eyes off the water has narrowed and shortened.
This is a problem because the boat’s computers and instrument systems provide a great deal of performance information – derived from the 190 sensors onboard – that help Ben Ainslie to drive the boat both smarter and faster. It’s everything from the boat’s speed and angle sailed to the wind, to the distance and time to the boundary.
On the old monohull America’s Cup boats this data was output on a set of digital, numerical displays racked vertically at eye level on the back of the mast. Placed there, they were close to the eyeline of the helmsman and the raw visual cues that they use to drive the boat; looking ahead to the waves and horizon, and the wind indicators (called tell-tales) on the sail plan.
It took practice, but the drivers learned to pick out the number that they wanted very quickly – but that was at ten mph, not 40mph, never mind that the advent of the wingsail meant that there was no longer a place for those displays on the back of the mast because there was no mast.
The alternative positions for data displays were on the bottom of the wing and on the back of the forward beam – but both were closer to the deck and further from the helmsman’s natural eyeline looking forward. So not only was there less time available to look at the displays, the eye needed more adjustment to find and focus on them.
The engineers at Land Rover BAR knew that they would have to come up with something new, and unsurprisingly they went to Land Rover for help. The solution was a flexible, plastic E ink display more familiar to an eReader. The key advantage of this technology is that the brighter the light (and it can get very bright in sub-tropical Bermuda) the clearer the display. This is in contrast to the more conventional marine LCD or LED displays which rely on backlighting to make the display visible in sunlight.
The backlighting requires electrical power, and the more electrical power needed by the boat’s systems the heavier the batteries. And as we know from the legendary sailing designer Uffa Fox, weight’s only useful in a steam roller.
LCDs also rely on polarising the liquid crystals, which means that the displays are only visible at some angles when wearing Polarised sunglasses. And most sailors do just that because it cuts down so much more of the glare from the water. Turn your head to the wrong angle while wearing polarised sunglasses, and the average marine LCD display goes blank. Not ideal when heading for your opponent at a closing speed of 100mph.
The traditional problem with EPD Display technology was the update rate, the pages of a book don’t get turned very frequently and the readily available displays didn’t boast particularly fast refresh rates. If this problem could be solved though, then the displays would be a big jump forward.
Working with a specialist EPD Display company (Plastic Logic), the Land Rover and Land Rover BAR engineers have developed the displays that are now used on R1 as she prepares to race for the America’s Cup. They tick all the boxes; bigger, clearer to read, lighter, less power hungry, much more robust and completely configurable by the team’s software engineers. They are also flexible and as an added bonus will mount flush to the curved aerodynamic surfaces of the forward beam.
Land Rover BAR engineer, Edward Hawthorne explained, “EPD is a fantastic solution for outdoor displays, but we always knew that we would struggle to get something with a quick enough refresh rate to display fast changing data like boat speed. Fortunately, with Land Rover’s help we found some great gear and although it’s been a lot of work to prepare and deploy them on the race boat, we’ve now got something that’s a significant jump on the opposition.”
“It’s a win-win-win with these new EPD displays, Land Rover and our in-house team led by Edward Hawthorne and Mark Cartwright have done a great job in producing something really groundbreaking for the marine industry,” added Engineering Manager, Richard Hopkirk.