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Design and Technology

The Next Frontier

The America’s Cup is evidence that healthy competition acts as a catalyst for innovation and technological advances

This year’s fast and furious America’s Cup in Bermuda was hailed as the ‘F1 on water’ by many. With such serious amounts of money involved in both sports, the comparisons are perhaps inevitable – but actually, the similarities go far beyond the financial. The high-performance, 50 foot catamarans built for the America’s Cup, which appear to fly above the water (and in fact, are capable of sailing four times faster than the wind), operate on the sort of cutting-edge technological innovations that are more often associated with F1 race cars. They share the same engineering challenges too, which lie in maximizing efficiency within strict design rules. It is no surprise that some of the leading experts involved in this year’s event were plucked directly from the car industry. Martin Whitmarsh spent 25 years at McLaren, winning numerous F1 world championships as an engineer and CEO – before heading to Land Rover BAR to help Ben Ainslie and co in this year’s Bermuda competition. The team may not have won – that title went to New Zealand, whose unusual control system paid off – but the cutting-edge engineering used in their efforts was ahead of the game. New steering technology borrowed from Land Rover enabled unprecedented levels of accuracy, allowing Ben to adjust the boat’s hydrofoils with expert precision, while every test session generated 16GB of data from built-in sensors. The America’s Cup trophy has been going strong for 166 years; time will tell what new technology will emerge in time for the next edition.

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