Wearable Wireless Puts Pedal to Metal

Alex Job Racing uses a mobile computing strategy involving Xybernaut wearable computers to improve data availability during races and help stay ahead of pack.

When youre leading in the American Le Mans Series GT division, the difference between staying ahead of the pack and losing to your closest competitor can be a matter of seconds.

This is why the emerging technology used by the Alex Job Racing team is not limited to carbon-fiber Porsche GT (Gran Turismo) race cars. In its goal to cross the finish line first, the team also relies on wearable wireless computers to process data from vehicles on the fly and to analyze statistics during the race.

Alex Job Racing, whose home race track is the Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Fla., began using wearable computers from Xybernaut Corp. bundled with race data tracking software this season. The combination has proved effective: The team finished the nine-race American Le Mans Series last month as the GT-class champions.

"With the average margin of victory for the teams in our category often coming down to tenths of a second, its critical to be able to make split-second decisions that often require rapidly processing a vast amount of data," said Alex Job, the owner of Alex Job Racing. "Key people, from the mechanics to the crew chiefs, rely on the computers as an access point for vital information during every race."

During eWEEK Labs on-site visit with the Alex Job Racing team during the Audi Sports Car Championships at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca racetrack, we were impressed with the teams emphasis on data collection and manipulation. By deploying Xybernauts Atigo T H/B (High Bright) wearable computers, Alex Job Racing has been able to develop a mobile computing strategy that not only improves data availability during races but also significantly increases the teams ability to make decisions and react to race conditions.

/zimages/4/28571.gifTo read about the Atigo M wearable computer, click here.

Although wearable computers have been available for industrial applications since the 1990s, a small but increasing number of organizations are using the units to make data collection easier and more efficient.

The devices are gaining the most ground among organizations such as shipping companies and hotels, both of which use the units for logistics-related tasks. Aircraft maintenance technicians at FedEx Corp., for example, use wearable computers for airplane maintenance purposes at delivery hubs, while personnel at Hilton Hospitality Inc. hotel properties use wearable computers at airports to check in guests.

The Alex Job Racing team has a relationship with Dr. Ing. h.c.F. Porsche AG, in Stuttgart, Germany, and races two Porsche cars in the GT class of the American Le Mans Series racing circuit.

During races, as the two Alex Job Racing vehicles circle the track, along with a field of Le Mans Prototype and GT cars, team members can monitor a variety of critical data using Atigo race data tracking software. The Atigo device itself is configured with Microsoft Corp.s Windows XP-embedded operating system and looks like a cross between a PDA and a tablet PC. Each unit costs about $2,500.

The Atigo unit is armed with Transmeta Corp.s Crusoe TM5800 1GHz processor and 256MB of SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM). The unit is coupled with 512MB of flash memory, which ensures that Alex Job Racing team members dont have to worry about losing vital information when using the unit in the track paddock or while underneath the cars.

In contrast, when the team used laptops in previous seasons, data was often lost when those units were dropped or broken.

Using a pen to manipulate and enter data, Alex Job Racing team members can access all the applications they normally use on laptops. These include LapTimer (stopwatch and strategy software), Pitstop (race strategy planning software) and RPM (Racecar Preventative Maintenance software, for tracking part life cycles and location) from Kinetic Racing Technologies, in Holly, Mich.

Team members are also able to use the Atigo as an ordinary desktop by placing it into a docking cradle and using the unit with an external keyboard.

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