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Following a successful start to their Innovation Partnership in 2014, Formula 1 team Infiniti Red Bull Racing has continued to improve and enhance its networking infrastructure, adding more mobile services and exploring the potential of the internet of things (IoT).
The four-time championship winning team extended and enhanced a previously existing relationship with AT&T during the 2014 F1 season, beefing up its core network in support of major technical changes to the sport.
These new regulations, which included a move from 2.4 litre V8 to 1.6 litre V6 turbo engines, among other things, meant the F1 paddock was effectively starting from scratch in terms of car development, generating vastly increased amounts of data and putting more pressure on trackside ICT infrastructure.
The investment paid off for Red Bull over the course of the 2014 season, as it was one of very few teams able to challenge the dominance of the Mercedes team. In 2015 it has failed to win a race, although its drivers, Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat, have scored a number of podium finishes between them.
But even though it has been a year of consolidation on the F1 track, both Red Bull and AT&T have been hard at work behind the scenes enhancing their partnership to bring more incremental improvements to the team.
Perhaps one of the most publicly visible impacts, says Red Bull head of technical partnerships Al Peasland, is that on a race weekend the team’s chief technical officer and lead designer, Adrian Newey, is able to get just as much work done from the team’s HQ at Milton Keynes, and no longer travels to every race to sit at the pit wall.
Using AT&T’s global SIM service, Red Bull has also been pushing ahead with rolling out more mobile devices to its workforce, and switched its estate out from BlackBerry to Apple iPhones.
“Before we had to manage our costs very closely and the amount of users we allowed to have a smartphone was limited due to this cost impact,” says Peasland.
Launched in 2014, the global SIM provides worldwide connectivity supported by AT&T’s global network, and local coverage from in-country partners. The service is currently available in 200 countries, offering cost-effective device management with integrated SIM provisioning, billing and reporting tools, according to AT&T’s blurb.
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For Red Bull, smartphones have really come into their own during Friday practice when many of its technical people are at the circuit as opposed to the factory, but still need to be able to work on last-minute tweaks to the car. They need full access to the systems they usually have, along with some new perks: “As an example, Rob Marshall [Red Bull chief engineering officer] is now able to photograph the cars in between practice sessions and send the pictures back to the design team in Milton Keynes,” says Peasland.
The global SIMs are also playing a part in keeping Red Bull’s travelling workforce happy on a personal level – something Red Bull takes very seriously as part of its corporate social responsibility practice.
As Peasland notes, the ability to connect to a mobile network after a 12 or 14-hour flight, without spending time buying a local data bundle or swapping over SIMs, and then to be able to call home and keep in touch with the family right away, means he is readier sooner to start work.
Learning from the IoT
When it comes to the IoT, AT&T’s global client group senior vice-president, Greg Wieboldt, says the supplier stands ready to apply its learnings from its global client base to support Red Bull in better exploring its potential.
For example, AT&T’s mobility practice has established an early lead in connected vehicles, working with both Ford and General Motors to establish new standards around enhanced motoring.
It has also connected more than 290,000 refrigerated containers to the AT&T network on behalf of global shipping company Maersk, installing remote container devices that include a 3G, high-temperature global SIM, a GPS unit, and a ZigBee radio and antenna, to help Maersk keep track of its shipments.
With Red Bull shipping 45,000 kilos of freight and two custom-built, super-expensive motor cars per race, tracking and securing it is very important for the team, according to Peasland.
“We have a huge logistical challenge every other weekend so hearing about what AT&T did for Maersk is something that we can easily piggyback on,” he says.
Al Peasland, Red Bull Racing
There is even a space for the mainstay of IoT deployments, the connected fridge: flagging staffers on-site at the team’s factory are able to take advantage of numerous well-stocked fridges containing every flavour of Red Bull available, and these will need restocking from time to time.
So the IoT can clearly play a role in Red Bull’s logistics and back-office functions, but what about where it really counts, out on the racetrack? There are already ways in which the IoT can yield benefits during a race, and Red Bull is keen to develop them.
“Safety is paramount – the fact that Daniil [Kvyat] had an incredible crash in Japan but walked away shows the structural strength of the car,” says Peasland. “The IoT will be about better managing the health of the car. There will be a continued move to make sure cars are safer.”
Another key application of the IoT at Red Bull will be around the health of their drivers, says Peasland. Although the job may seem physically undemanding at face value, F1 drivers are in fact some of the most highly conditioned athletes on earth.
F1 places huge demands on the drivers’ bodies in terms of stamina and endurance – during the course of an average race they can experience a sustained 3.5g of cornering force, and sweat off up to three kilos of bodyweight. They also require strong arm muscles and a powerful core to control the car, and exceptional hand-eye co-ordination. These are all areas in which wearable IoT devices could help realise benefits.
Full potential of IoT still way off
However, cautions Peasland, there must be an element of restraint when it comes to loading up car and driver alike with sensors, not least in weight terms. Currently the minimum weight of an F1 car is 690kg, and with each extra kilo of weight adding an average of 0.035 seconds to a lap time, the pressure is on to get as close to the minimum threshold as possible, and even with sensors weighing mere fractions of a kilo, there can still be an impact.
There are also considerations to take into account around the volume of data that these sensors generate, says Peasland.
“Just adding more sensors is not necessarily the solution because the more data they generate and we have to pick through, it becomes like looking for a needle in a haystack,” he says. “We must be very careful we are not creating information that’s irrelevant.
“We must also be careful that we don’t fit sensors where we might impact the aerodynamics of the car,” he adds.
The full potential of the IoT is still a way off, and the world will probably never see F1 go driverless – although, jokes Peasland, in the case of some of the F1 cars on the grid this season driverless running might be an improvement – but its impact in the sport may be very profound.
Ultimately, F1 has also long been famous for being a test bed for technology – such as disc brakes, direct shift gearboxes, clutchless manual transmission and even rear view mirrors – that has trickled down into road-going vehicles, so it is certainly not a great leap of the imagination to picture the IoT technologies that will be deployed in F1 having an impact on the family hatchback of 2025.