Sleek looking boats rising out of the water to fly on foils at eye watering speeds, with maritime legends and elite athletes onboard and a cheering crowd following their path. This year’s new AC50 foiling catamarans where a big hit on the island of Bermuda, which hosted the 35th edition of the America’s Cup last June. With their cutting-edge design and materials, their intensive telemetry and data-driven development, the AC50 catamarans were literally dubbed “F1 on water”.
The AC50 catamaran is a brand new class, developed over the last few years specifically for the 2017 America's Cup, and teams have very little experience racing it. Every outing in race conditions is a new opportunity to gather critical data, to push a little bit further up the learning curve. So it's perhaps no surprise to find iXblue fiber-optic technology at work here, helping teams get the most performance out of their boats.
Those are covered with literally thousands of sensors mounted on every key component, all recording every moment of every race. The ability to monitor and analyze that data, not only after each race, but also during the action, is critical. It enables teams to make the marginal adjustments and heat-of-the-moment judgment calls that can make the difference between winning and losing.
Go below the waterline on the Groupama Team France catamaran, and you'll find iXblue's all-fiber sensing system fitted to the foils and rudders that are so crucial to the boat's speed. These slivers of carbon fiber (each foil is no bigger than a surfboard) are all that is in contact with the water when the boat is foiling in full cry, so they are obviously subjected to tremendous stresses. Any sub-optimal performance in a foil can have a huge negative impact on speed, while overloading can easily lead to a race-ending, and potentially catastrophic, breakage. So iXblue has developed several arrays of Bragg Gratings which uses fiber-optic technology to monitor the geometry of the foils and rudders, enabling detection and correction of any excessive micro-deformations. Optimizing the efficiency of these critical components contributes to maximum performance, and keeps the crew of the boat safe by permanently anticipating and managing the risk of structural damage.
This fiber-optic technology developed by iXblue and installed onboard each of the AC50 catamarans has thus become an essential component of the America’s Cup as it helps the competing teams get the most performance out of their boats while keeping them safe at all times. It seems like iXblue is now a natural partner for this exciting new era of technological evolution of the fastest and most glamourous event in world sailing.