SilverHook gains edge with AI in race to the podium

By | 4 minute read | June 4, 2019

race boat skimming water

Last year, after breaking the Guinness World Record for the Key West to Cuba run, we wondered what was next for the #77 Lucas Oil SilverHook ocean racing powerboat? We found the answer in the 50th anniversary of the Trinidad & Tobago Great Race, one of the most grueling races in the world.

The 115-mile endurance course starts in Trinidad’s Port of Spain, where you head north and then east near the island before popping into the Atlantic Ocean for a 50-mile sprint to the finish in Store Bay, Tobago. There’s a new wrinkle around every turn. Because of the logistical difficulties of racing on foreign shores, we were the first American entry in 29 years. We knew we would face stiff competition from Jumbie, Cat Killer, Mr. Solo and other local rivals that know the course well.

The 48-ft, 3,100-hp twin-engine SilverHook pushes the limits of the most advanced technologies we can find, including analytics, the Watson IoT Platform, machine learning, the IBM Cloud and our t3lemetry. That’s where the partnership with IBM pays off, because it gives us the chance to test this first-of-its-kind technology on the open ocean at speeds up to 150 mph, one of the toughest race courses you can imagine. If we can make the technology reliable there, it will be reliable anywhere.

A dynamic course—conquered with AI

The Great Race met every expectation of difficulty—of the seven boats in our A-Class, only one, the winner, finished on full power. Early on, we broke a prop blade on a log in the bay. We had intermittent satellite communications due to our speed and the sea conditions, and a sticky turbocharger wastegate limited engine power. Still, we consider our second-place finish a tremendous accomplishment.

Standing on the podium facing an audience of fellow racers, local dignitaries and racing fans, I couldn’t help thinking back to my early life in Devon, England, where I grew up in a family of powerboat racers. When I was eight years old, my uncle, a designer, builder and racer of powerboats and my idol, built me a 3-hp outboard boat that I raced in a local regatta. I had the best time.

In my teenage years, we built a proper boat and entered a 50-mile race in Dawlish. It was rough, cold and I got soaked, but I loved it. I was hooked, pardon the pun, and this sport became a core interest in my life.

Our boats travel faster than any other vessel on the ocean, and there’s a community of competitors who want to conquer courses that are always dynamic, ever-changing. That’s where technology can make a real difference.

A first-of-its-kind technology

The SilverHook is instrumented with 100 IoT sensors that monitor almost everything about the race — the boat, the engines and the pilots’ vital signs. We aggregate the data onboard and transmit it by cellular or satellite telemetry to the IBM Cloud, which is where the magic happens. IBM Business Partner DataSkill, our integrator, has developed analytics and machine learning algorithms to help us understand what’s happening and solve problems.

We’ve also developed Watson Whisper, an AI solution powered by IBM Watson that can to diagnose issues and automatically communicate fixes to the pilots’ earpieces during a race. Watson Whisper worked well in a World Championship when it helped us recover from an alternator failure. Without it, we would have limped in at half power instead of finishing on the podium. We’ve also transformed ocean racing into a spectator sport by broadcasting live IoT data over the Internet to our fans.

The next challenge

The tough conditions at the Great Race demonstrated both the promise and the experimental nature of our technology. Our on-shore engineers weren’t aware of the turbo-booster problem because we had lost communications. After the race, however, their analytics diagnosed the fault by discovering irregular readings from five IoT sensors. Now, machine learning will update the model to recognize the glitch if it reoccurs.

We knew going in that the race would be a challenge, and it was. We learned a lot and we furthered the technology, edging us closer to a chance at taking the checkered flag at the 51st running of the Trinidad & Tobago Great Race.

We’re also considering a new piece of technology: an IBM Blockchain solution to automate and simplify the messy paperwork and logistics of shipping our boat, spare parts, tools, technology and team overseas. The shipping company, carrier and around 10 other entities are involved, and manifests and bills of lading don’t always match when you get to customs. If blockchain can streamline the logistics workflow through a trusted network, we’ll be free to focus on running the best race we possibly can.

Watch Nigel Hook discuss the Trinidad & Tobago Great Race and their great partnership with IBM: