People 'n' Issues

How biometrics changed the Volvo Ocean Race

December 21st, 2017
Biometric data is transforming the way we do things and the world of international yacht racing is only the next step, says TIANA CLINE.
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As a digital innovation system, SAP Leonardo has shown its proficiency in a number of sectors. From retail to farming, sports and manufacturing, Leonardo’s ability to integrate and combine relatively new technologies – such as machine learning, analytics, blockchain technology, the Internet of Things – on the SAP Cloud Platform is unmatched.

More recently, team AkzoNobel – a brand-new Dutch ocean racing team backed by a leading global paints and coatings company of the same name – teamed up with SAP Leonardo to take advantage of these future-forward technologies for this year’s Volvo Ocean Race, a gruelling and exhilarating eight-month global sporting event like no other.

Physical and mental exhaustion can become the biggest threats to an (otherwise very capable) crew. With the assistance of SAP Leonardo, team AkzoNobel will be benefitting from far more than weather updates and route suggestions – Leonardo delivers on improving team performance, bringing both biometrics and data science into the equation.

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In the broader context of digital innovation, it has quickly become clear that technologies like IoT, analytics and data science need to work together. For the first time in professional sailing – and fully approved by the race organisers as no data is allowed to go to or leave a yacht during the race – team AkzoNobel use SAP Leonardo IoT Dynamic Edge technology on-boat and SAP Cloud Platform off-shore. The research project enables team AkzoNobel to track the sailors’ fitness levels and degree of exhaustion during racing… and it’s available to all competing teams.

“This is a particularly exciting implementation of IoT,” explains Dr Adriana Marais, head of innovation at SAP Africa. “Here, the devices are the wrist wearables and the technology is the Edge device… this project truly shows how data acquired by connected sensors, coupled with machine learning and predictive analytics, can enable even the largely analogue world of international yacht racing to run digital.”

SAP has equipped all nine crew members of team AkzoNobel with sensors to capture biometric data which can be collected and analysed by the crew on board during the race to give team AkzoNobel insight into the crew’s fitness and recovery data. The output is presented in a specifically designed user interface for the skipper.

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Ryan West, who looks after the technology on board, says that it’s a work in progress:

“Every bit of it that essentially is taking information from the wearable transmit box that’s on board and inside the Raspberry Pi. There’s software on it and it can do calculations, but there’s no connectivity – we want to be 100% compliant.”

Essentially, it’s about the data.

“There’s a little bit of processing and then it sends out information so the AzkoNobel sails can see and make decisions for themselves. The biggest thing is that we’re trying to provide them with information which will make it easier,” he adds.

The biometric edge solution helps to interpret the biometric measurement data. And once the boats arrive at each of the 12 stopovers, predictive and machine learning analytics are run on SAP Cloud Platform using SAP Leonardo IoT Foundation.

The data processing software was tested from Lisbon to Cape Town – the team analysed the data, made changes and now they’re looking to build upon the steps they’ve already taken.

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“We’re very much building as we go but we’re getting good clean data and from there we’re just continuing to build on it. Our main thing is making whatever we do useful,” he adds.

SAP Leonardo delivers new capabilities in future-forward technologies, which add tremendous value pushing the boundaries of racing as a professional sport. Dr Marais points out that this kind of technology will also have relevant applications in Africa, from remote healthcare services to telemedicine.

“This is a new application of the technology in a harsh environment. We are excited about collecting the data, and analysing it, to hopefully increase performance.”

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