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.
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.
“The information line for us is crucial,” Job said. “By taking advantage of the Xybernaut unit, were able to take information that isnt normally mobile and really tap into it on the move. Its light-years distant from using pen and paper, like we used to.”
Each time a car makes a pit stop, team members plug an Atigo device directly into a computer in the car to download a wide variety of data, including how fast the car took a particular turn, how worn the tread on the tires is, how hot the car is running, and how the driver accelerated and braked differently during each lap.
Crew members can strap the Atigo unit onto their fire suits for use in the pits. Because the device has a display that can be used in a variety of lighting environments, crew members can use the units even during races run after sunset. During previous seasons, the crew used laptop computers, which broke easily and were difficult to view in direct sunlight.
The data from each vehicle is uploaded directly over a WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy)-secured 802.11g wireless network set up for each race by Alex Job Racing team members; the network lets the team view the results on multiple Atigo devices.
“The computer is so integrated with what we do that it is very much a part of the technology of the car,” said Phil Pierce, a crew chief for Alex Job Racing. “When we used laptops, a lot of guys didnt want to use the units because they broke easily and were too big. The Atigo is lightweight and flexible, which makes it easier to use.”
The collected data allows drivers to compare different approaches to each race and conduct a detailed analysis on various portions of each track. With every instance of accelerating and braking captured in data form, drivers can overlay their lap data with the same information from a teammate to determine which approach to the track and the race works best.
The data also enables crew chiefs and team managers to determine what, if any, modifications need to be made to the cars the next time they make a pit stop.
During each race, the IMSA (International Motor Sports Association) runs a dedicated network that reports the lap time of each driver along with other statistics to which every race team has access. Alex Job Racing sets up its own private wireless network that lets team members analyze the IMSA statistics using their own software.
Without the wireless units, team members would be forced to sit in front of monitors during the entire race—some lasting as long as 10 hours—to keep an eye on the competition.
When the team reassembles later this month for the off-season at Sebring International Raceway, it will look into other ways it can use the wearable PCs during racing season, said Job.
The team is looking at using RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology in conjunction with tracking software on the wearable units to track parts for inventory purposes, Job said. Currently, mechanics use pen and paper to manually inventory parts as they arrive, a method that is time-intensive and potentially error-prone.
“The information line is crucial when it comes to racing because time truly is of the essence in this sport,” Job said. “The units link a team that would otherwise have to rely on pen and paper.”
Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Company Alex Job Racing
- Location Tavares, Fla.
- Issue Alex Job Racing needed a way to collect data from vehicles while they were on the track during races
- Solution The racing team chose to deploy wireless and mobile PCs from Xybernaut bundled with race data tracking software that would enable its members to collect and process vast amounts of data during race
- Tools Xybernauts Atigo T H/B; Microsofts Embedded Windows XP; Kinetic Racing Technologies LapTimer, Pitstop and RPM
- Whats next Alex Job Racing plans to use Atigo mobile PCs with RFID to track parts and other inventory in the racing teams warehouse
Source: eWEEK Labs reporting
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