EMC uses big data to drive motorcycle racing safety improvements

Storage giant has embarked on a big data project with Isle of Man TT race winner John McGuinness to improve track safety levels

EMC is using sensor technology and big data analytics to help professional motorcycle racer John McGuinness improve his performance on the track and make the sport safer for other riders.

McGuinness has won the Isle of Man TT race 21 times in his career spanning two decades and set lap records at a variety of tracks across the UK. However, speaking at the EMC World conference in Las Vegas, he said he’s not 100% sure how he manages to be so fast on the track.

“It’s been really interesting for me – what makes me different? I never really knew this,” he told delegates.

In motor racing, it’s commonplace for participants to have information fed to them throughout the race, based on real-time data, about what they can do to improve their chances of winning.

In fact, that’s an area EMC has been dabbling in for some years now with the work it does with Formula One racing team Lotus.

However, McGuinness said given the varied terrain and road conditions he encounters during his races, that kind of constant feedback would prove too distracting.

“We can’t speak to the team at all, but I don’t think you want your manager jabbering into your earhole when you’re sliding into a 180mph corner,” he said.

“We can gain the data on the bike, which is where the partnership with EMC comes into things.” 

According to McGuinness, this data allows him to ascertain how the decisions he makes in the moment on his bike are likely to affect the final outcome of the race.

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To do this, EMC embedded sensors into McGuinness’s clothes and his bike that would feed back data about how his body was reacting to the race, along with information about how the angles and speeds he took corners at, for example, would influence his overall track performance.

The gathered data has since been passed over to EMC customers and partners to trawl through and analyse, so they can attempt to come up with a definitive answer to what makes McGuinness so fast on the track.

The person who comes up with the most convincing analysis stands to win a $7,500 prize, once the deadline for answering the question passes on 15 May 2015. EMC has already had around 800 people take on the task.

To give participants even more data to work with, the experiment was repeated with motorcycling journalist Adam Child taking over from McGuinness on the track.

Once the results are known, McGuinness said he hopes to share some of the insights with other members of the sport to help drive up safety standards on the track.

“It’s been really interesting finding out what makes the way I race different," he said. "I had sensors everywhere. I had sensors on my bike, I had sensors in my underpants, measuring all sorts of things, including heart rate and other stresses, and I think it could make racing a little bit safer.

“We could find out areas where we’re stronger or weaker and try and balance out the two, but we can’t share this information with other teams in case we get beat by them,” he added.

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