The Panic Button Films

By Guy Kewney  |  Posted 2005-09-21 Print this article Print

Action Almost Before It Happens"> This race, the pictures will be better than ever. The bit of the arrangements that I liked was the "panic button," which just about sums up the comms ethos on these boats. The panic button has just one function: to start dumping the 10 or so gigabytes of video which constantly get recorded by the 10 video cameras on each boat—up the mast, below, and even on the helmet of one member of the crew—24-7. Hit the button, and you operate a time machine that means you effectively start filming whatever is going on, 2 minutes earlier.
Its not just for publicity; its often the case that when things go wrong at one end of the boat, the cause was an incident nobody saw at the other end. Using the panic button means you can see what happened before it started, from every possible angle—everything from a mast breaking to a crew member falling overboard is captured.
Great for safety. But even better for reality TV viewers, and for the sponsors. And without sponsors, would there be a race? Todays Volvo Open 70 boat is the fastest sailing machine ever built on a single hull. These carbon fiber beasts have already crossed the 45-knot mark—Black Pearl, the Disney entry, went over the previous record for the greatest distance sailed in a day, coming back from New Zealand—without the help of a sea current that boosted the previous record. Entrants may well go over 50 knots. By contrast, the average boat speed in the very first race was around 5 knots. Heres a final story from Bourke: "We knew wed hit something. We just didnt know what; we thought it might be weed, kelp, something like that. We had a look through the hull with the endoscope, and saw nothing. So we turn the boat into the wind, and Waffler, a pretty brave guy—a little Kiwi, stoic sort, was told to go over the side and look. "The temperature is cold, 5-6 degrees. Waffler jumps in at the bow, looks at the boat as it sails past him. He examines the keel, and he comes face to face with a 4-meter-long shark. Its snapped around the root of the keel; its now a paraplegic shark, but its jaws are working just fine while it gnashes around. "He pretty much leaps vertically out of the water onto the boat, and tells us what he saw. Did you get it off the keel? was all we asked. He had to go back into the water, and he had to pull its tail off." Now, that would keep me watching the TV. Contributing columnist Guy Kewney has been irritating the complacent in high tech since 1974. Previously with PC Mag UK and ZDNet UK, Guy helped found InfoWorld, Personal Computer World, MicroScope, PC Dealer, AFAICS Research and NewsWireless. And he only commits one blog—forgiveable, surely? He can be reached at Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on mobile and wireless computing.


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