Oracle Team USA won the 2013 America’s Cup race with one of the most efficient sailing vessel ever built. Oracle Team USA’s AC72-class yacht, USA-17, was a 100’ long, 90’ wide and 223’ tall carbon fiber technological marvel capable of speeds in excess of 50 knots (57 mph). The yacht actually “flies” off the water on hydrofoils that lift the entire hull clear of the waves to reduce drag. Sailing this engineering masterpiece required more than 300 sensors and sophisticated computer control technology. More than 3,000 data variables per second are captured and displayed in a variety of formats on PDA’s strapped to sailor’s arms, on tablets mounted around the vessel, and on cockpit displays.
Ultrasonic Sensors Measure Hydrofoiling Distance
One of the most important navigational elements to control is the foiling process. ToughSonic 30 ultrasonic sensors are mounted on each outboard hull to measure its distance from the ocean’s surface – sort of a liquid level measurement in reverse. Data from the ultrasonic sensors is combined with data from accelerometers and other sensors to optimize ride height and speed. Understanding exactly where the vessel is relative to the surface at all times is also essential for safe and effective handling. As Oracle Team USA Data Analyst and Instrumentation Engineer, Jose Luis Vela commented, “We drive the boat based on sensor data. The foiling requires real-time information that is fast and completely accurate. We selected Senix ultrasonic sensors after extensive testing in a variety of high-speed marine conditions.”
Watch this extraordinary boat accelerate on hydrofoils in this Oracle Team USA video:
Tough Smart Sensors
In addition to sensor accuracy and processing speed, reliability was essential. A single malfunction of a critical on-board sensor can not only cost the team a race, it can create a serious safety risk. Senix ultrasonic sensors were selected for rugged construction and reputation for durability. Jose Luis Vela noted that, “The ToughSonic sensors work like new even after three years of training races in harsh ocean conditions. They have worked perfectly since the very first day. We have never had to touch them”.
Oracle Team USA will defend the America’s Cup in 2017 in Bermuda. The race will feature a new generation of foiling catamarans and Senix ultrasonic sensors will be on board helping them fly to victory.
See how a team of Dutch university students used ToughSonic ultrasonic sensors to manage hydrofoiling on a solar powered boat!