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Could AI be the future of Formula 1 pitstops?

Could AI be the future of Formula 1 pitstops? iMedia Editors

iMediaConnection caught up with Williams Martini Racing CTO Graeme Hackland to explore how motorsport is experimenting with AI, VR and AR.

It’s only August and it already looks like the bookies could pay out on VR and AI being crowned the top buzzwords of 2017.

Cast your mind to a time before Coke was using Oculus Rift to enable us to experience being Santa riding his sleigh. Google hadn’t put human intelligence in its place in the ancient Chinese game of Go. And the internet things wasn’t really ‘a thing’. Remember it? You may then be surprised to hear that one sport was already going full throttle in a bid to drive innovation - motorsport.

Whether you’re a petrol head or not, the fact that connected cars existed back in 1979 is likely to turn a few heads. Why has the sport been so keen to embrace data and technology innovation? It’s the fuel needed to gain the edge in an intensely competitive and big spending industry.

“We are not going to win the World Championship by outspending the other teams. We have got to be smart,” says Graeme Hackland, Williams F1’s CTO. 

So what does 'smart' mean in F1?

"The way we are going to be smart is really around how we handle the data. Thanks to data, everything is instrumented. I have heard Felipe Massa saying that he can’t hide; everything he does is there is in the data. Using new technology, making sure we can get access to the data generated by F1 cars in real time enables us to make real time decisions,” adds Hackland.

Whilst providing teams with real time data will continue to be crucial for the foreseeable future, Hackland says that the focus is now shifting away from boosting human decision-making to automation.

“Can AI help us to get back to the front of the grid? I predicted, perhaps unwisely, that by 2020 an F1 car will pit and go back out with no human intervention," Hackland said.

New technology does not just boost performance in F1 - it also adds entertainment value for fans.

Hackland is excited by the potential of VR to create fan experiences that were unimaginable in the golden era of Senna, Schumacher and Prost.

New F1 owners Liberty Media are determined to up the sport’s entertainment value and transform the experience from a passive Sunday afternoon in front of the TV to a fully immersive engagement. 

Formula E, F1’s electric sister motorsport class (whose majority shareholder is also Liberty), has struck a partnership with VR firm Virtually Live. The deal enables headset-wearing fans to get the full race day experience.

In addition to watching the race action, fans can play pool in the VIP room, jump in the car with drivers or chat away in the pitlane - all inherently immersive and social activities. 

Back at the track, Hackland thinks AR will enable engineers to boost efficiency.

“We’ve started to do pilots and proof of concepts around AR. Will it help our mechanic at the track who is trying to fit a part? Instead of looking at a 2D drawing, could he be using headset? All of this would be done without human intervention via robotics and automation.”

As brands increasingly latch onto the opportunities of data science, AI, VR and AR, the savvy marketer keeps one eye on the world of F1. The sport just might provide the inspiration needed to gain pole position in the increasingly technology-driven battle to win hearts and minds.


Graeme Hackland is a speaker at ad:tech London on 29-30 November alongside leaders from L’Oreal, Nestlé and VICE.

iMedia Communications, Inc. is a trade publisher and event producer serving interactive media and marketing industries. The company was founded in September of 2001 and is a subsidiary of Comexposium USA.  ...

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