Ship to API: The America’s Cup Navigates in a Sea of Data

This guest post comes from Axway’s VP Partners & Growth Markets and keen waterman, Hugh Carroll and co-author Dave Murphy, Online marketing manager at Axway and a keen cyclist. Dave can be followed on twitter @davemurphy16

How APIs play a role in capturing every moment of the sailing world’s marquee event

Advances in sailing technology over many generations have contributed greatly to man’s navigation of the globe. After all, where would Cook or Columbus have landed without the compass and sextant or the work of the great cartographers that preceded them?

This week, as Team New Zealand faces defending America's Cup holder Oracle Team USA (yes, that’s Larry Ellison leading America’s defence of the cup) on the foggy waters of San Francisco Bay, the latest generation of sailors are benefiting from the technological advances man has made, not only in the area of composite materials engineering, but in everyday computing in the guise of APIs. But the watching public will also finally be able to appreciate and watch the drama of the race unfold on their TVs and smartphones in a way never before imagined, all courtesy of the data feeds exposed to the media firms via these same APIs.

The sailing boats are so highly advanced in design and technology that they cut through the water at speeds up to 39 knots per hour. Canvas sails have been replaced by carbon fibre sails that have more in common with aircrafts than boats, and the multi-hull boats breeze through unstable water. But it is in the area of APIs where arguably the greatest advances have been made. The organizers will use APIs to bring the excitement of super yacht racing to the mainstream public. The America’s Cup Data API now allows programmers to access a live stream of race data. This data consists of instrument readings from boats as well as live race information.

Not only are the sailors aboard the boats and their race teams onshore benefiting from up-to-the-minute data, so too are the armchair sailors watching on TV sets and smartphones around the world.

Ship to API to Phone

At one point in time, the America’s Cup was a byword for secrecy, with each team zealously guarding every change it made to the design of a hull or keel as each team sought to gain an advantage over its rivals using the latest in materials and computer-aided design.

Times have changed, however, with the advances of open API technology and pressure from sponsors and promoters encouraging race teams to adopt a more transparent approach. For the first time ever, all the data collected from the racing yachts is publicly available via Open APIs. This means the real-time position of the boats and race management data such as boundaries and penalties, will be streamed free of charge. Developers can now build Android and iPhone apps to connect to these data feeds and provide race data to on-site fans and a virtual-reality display of race action to off-site fans. Examples include the America’s Cup Mobile Application (created by New Zealand developers, which allows fans to jump from boat to boat and select footage) and the CupExperience.

Ship to API to TV

APIs will also expose data for consumption by media companies to present a fully integrated viewing experience to the fans. There are several key elements: LiveLine tracking; race management and umpiring, and on-board TV cameras and audio.

LiveLine tracking

The LiveLine graphics provide real-time graphics embedded in the live broadcast from a helicopter following the race. Both yachts in the final have the LiveLine system housed securely in their hulls. The GPS tracks the boats accurately to 2 cm. The technology superimposes graphic elements onto live television to give technical information to viewers so they can see wind speed, ahead-behind lines, penalties and course marks.

Race Management and Umpiring

High-quality position data available from the yachts provides the tools for both electronic race management and umpiring.  The on-board crew can also see critical race information displayed from the umpires and the Principal Race Officer.

On-Board TV and Audio

The yachts carry upto seven high-definition cameras transmitting video and audio feeds through mast antennas.  All the cameras, transmitters and microphones will undoubtedly make the America’s Cup a more accessible sport for both fans and umpires alike.

The advances in sports coverage that are being achieved via APIs will mean that organizers, competitors and media companies alike are inevitably going to implement an API management layer courtesy of API gateways. If an organization is encouraging users to leverage its API, it needs to ensure it stacks up. It is important to have an API management layer in place to deliver security and ease-of-use while ensuring the user can get up and running with the API without making human contact for support. Along with the ease-of-use and self-service criteria, an organization has to balance security and governance requirements – for example, setting in place policies that dictate which user can access the API, at what time and from what device. This is the crux of any discussion around delivering, managing and securing APIs.

Implementing an API management layer provides all stakeholders with the confidence that the APIs are scalable, secure and available for use by the approved apps.  So as you sit down to watch the America’s Cup coverage this year, remember that there’s as much design going into the API technology linking the competitors and boats to shore as there is in the carbon fibre masts and keels designed to capture the elusive 162-year-old trophy.

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