Drones to keep an eye on Volvo Ocean Race

Venkatesh Ganesh Alicante | Updated on January 08, 2018

Drones can reduce errors by around 30 per cent. Along with statistical data models, they help in better understanding phenomena caused by climate change

After being deployed in as diverse roles as air strikes and crop inspections, drones are set to helpsailors in high seas.

Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) is a sailing competition, established in 1973, which stretches 45,000 miles, cutting across four oceans a and touching five continents over eight gruelling months.

Considered one of the toughest sporting events in the world, the race — which is in its 13th edition — will cover cities like Alicante, Lisbon, Cape Town, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Auckland, Itajaí, Newport, Cardiff and Gothenburg, before concluding at The Hague in June next year.

As competitors navigate the sea-lanes, the Race Control monitoring station will get crucial inputs from the air.

Drones would come in handy... from transmitting weather-related information to broadcasting the race itself, Jordi Neves, Chief Digital Officer, VOR, told BusinessLine. In the high seas, sailors face at least 20 risk factors, all of which the two drones in every boat will beam back to a central location, designed and run by HCL Tech along with VOR officials.

In the past, this information — of ocean currents, for example — was not very critical, because historical data more or less could determine the weather for the days ahead.

Climate change

“Now, with rampant climate change, we are seeing certain parts in the ocean where the intensity of the currents are changing, ice melting, etc., all of which can be fatal for sailors if not assessed,” said Neves.

Drones can reduce errors by around 30 per cent. Along with statistical data models, they help in understanding things caused by climate change in a better manner, added Ashish Gupta, Corporate VP - IT Outsourcing and Infrastructure Sales, EMEA, HCL Technologies.

Every boat is fitted with seven fixed cameras, two wireless cameras and two drones that will beam the information live back to the central location — referred to as Race Control.

Driving tourism

The usage of technology will also aid in driving tourism in scenic places like Alicante, which is amongst the dozen villages where fans come to follow the race. Neves said that during the last edition, around 2.4 million people visited the ‘race villages’ globally.

Glamour value

Race officials are also hoping that the use of drones will add to the glamour of the event, which is competing against other sports. Also, since many corporate sponsors are involved, the need to provide repair and maintenance support to boats sponsored by them is increasingly coming into play.

However, it may not be a smooth sail for the drones, say some observers. Violent wind gusts and rough waters may mean a rocky journey for the drones, too.

(The writer is in Alicante, Spain, at the invitation of HCL Technologies)

Published on October 22, 2017

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