Vakaros Atlas 2 RaceSense & the promise of dual-band GPS

RaceSense is such a novel idea that it’s onerous to know at a look. Whereas that display appears like a digital sail racing app that you simply play along with your fingertips, what’s really digital are the oldsters usually wanted to run an actual occasion — plus their boats, the marks, the horn, and so forth. As an alternative, Vakaros Atlas 2 tablet-style devices on every of the actual sailboats kind a meshed wi-fi community, and a built-in characteristic referred to as RaceSense makes use of distributed synthetic intelligence to create the course, name penalties, and title winners. Wow.

If RaceSense works as deliberate, the characteristic might be a nifty new method to compete, and conceivably extra correct than human umpires. Furthermore, there may also be an alternate RaceSense Fleet mode designed to make standard race administration simpler, even with lowered manpower. Plus, if the committee boat can exactly observe all of the racers without delay and even gentle up a single boat’s Atlas 2 to levy a penalty, sharing that information with enthusiastic however typically confused on-the-water spectators like myself needs to be a reasonably easy subsequent step.

However I emphasised that “If” as a result of the Vakaros second-generation Atlas 2 crusing instrument — launched final July — now gained’t ship to retail clients till January on account of provide chain points, and its RaceSense capabilities have been solely revealed just a few weeks in the past. In different phrases, real-world variations of the composite picture above have solely been prototype take a look at races to date. Then once more, Vakaros tells me that the testing goes nicely and, apart from, the $1,000 Atlas 2 appears like an in a position software even when a racer by no means makes use of the RaceSense options.

Furthermore, the important thing know-how behind the Atlas 2 — a dual-band GPS/GNNS receiver in a position to make use of the improved navigation capabilities of the L5 frequency — is nice to learn about afloat or ashore.

Stepping again a bit, the unique Atlas, launched in 2018, is a purpose-built, wi-fi, waterproof instrument targeted on the dear numbers that may be calculated by fusing high-performance GPS/GNSS place information with 9-axis magnetometer, gyroscope, and accelerometer sensing. Its 4.4-inch, 320 x 240 pixel display appears sharp even in consumer photographs seen on a lengthy Crusing Anarchy Discussion board thread, the place you’ll additionally discover a honest quantity of reward for the unique gadget together with some angst about bugs and delayed firmware updates.

However let’s acknowledge that Varakos serves the pretty slim area of interest of small to medium dimension racing sailboats, and of all the numerous niches that fracture marine electronics, it’s one of the crucial difficult when it comes to environmental situations, wanted precision, and demanding clients. I discover, as an example, that Raymarine hasn’t put a lot vitality into the TackTick MicroNet line it acquired in 2011 and, equally, Garmin’s sail instrument choices haven’t progressed far because the integration of their 2012 Nexus buy.

The massive manufacturers, particularly B&G, do quite a bit for sailors with their networked show and sensor techniques, however within the trendy world of wi-fi GPS-centric racing devices, the Atlas competes with gadgets just like the Velocitek ProStart and the Sailmon Max. And it’s noteworthy that the Atlas was first in contrast to the 2018 Pittman Award successful Racegeek d10 which now not exists. Briefly, it’s a tricky market and I used to be impressed with the brand new options that Varakos added to the Atlas 2 earlier than RaceSense was even talked about.

Notice, as an example, the intense strip of multicolor LEDs on the high of the brand new design. Together with improved audio audio system, they will alert a racer to numerous conditions like a begin line deadline with out the necessity to concentrate on display digits. However the actually vital Atlas 2 improve is its “25 Hz L1+L5 dual-band, multi-constellation GNSS receiver” — a know-how leap that deserves dialogue nonetheless you utilize the ever-evolving Global Navigation Satellite System.

Varakos claims 50-centimeter Atlas 2 positional accuracy — that’s simply 20 inches! — and the declare is sensible given GNSS trade enthusiasm about the advantages of including the comparatively new L5 frequency/protocol to traditional L1 indicators. The marine world hasn’t finished a lot with L5 but, however quite a few satellites within the GPS, Galileo, and BeiDou constellations are already transmitting on 1176.45 Mhz, and a few telephones already use a dual-band receiver chip.

Actually, my Google Pixel 5 is on the rising dual-band checklist — sorry, no iPhone fashions but — and due to the superb Android GPSTest app, I’ve now seen proof of the L5 benefit. As proven within the screenshots, twenty satellites from three totally different constellations have been working to calculate a repair virtually precisely the place my cellphone was in the actual world, and greater than half have been on the L5 service frequency (referred to as E5a by Galileo).

Whereas dual-band multi-constellation telephones purportedly carry out considerably higher than L1-only fashions in city canyons, skeptics would possibly word that marine GNSS receivers often have wide-open sky views and likewise that “sidewalk degree” precision isn’t vital anyway (as a result of the charts aren’t that correct). However let’s have a look at how vital accuracy turns into when an instrument tries to assist a sailor get a great race begin, and much more so with RaceSense.

The Atlas 1/2 graphical begin line display on the left is kind of just like the Garmin Begin Steerage already mentioned on Panbo, and I as soon as witnessed related on a B&G H5000. To be clear, the Atlas 2 is reporting 41 seconds Time to Burn at your present Pace over Floor and Heading with 64 meters Distance to Line and greater than a minute till the ultimate begin horn. So in line with the instrument, you’ve obtained to in some way decelerate relative to the road, however the reality of all these numbers — besides the 1:24 Time to Line (hopefully nicely synced) — are contingent on exact place/movement information, and doubly so within the case of TTB and DTL.

In the meantime, I’m glad that Varakos illustrated RaceSense with almost the identical mockup display as a result of it could assist to know how in another way they’re sourced, although with precision much more vital. Right here’s the mode breakdown:

  • Graphical begin line: This solely works on particular person boats, and is simply as correct as you’ll be able to ping the mark positions (and sync the beginning timing sequence). Direct imprecision in place, pace, and heading may mess up the numbers. (Video demo on unique Atlas right here.)
  • RaceSense standalone mode: One racer goes head to wind and specifies legs/distance after which Atlas 2 units up the course and networks to all boats. No pinging or syncing required, and the community is aware of if anybody crosses early, however the race is totally depending on Atlas 2 precision and AI.
  • RaceSense Fleet mode: Once more all boats get the identical line and time information, however people arrange and supervise the race with RaceSense help. There will likely be numerous methods to do that however sometimes included is an actual world beginning line with Atlas 2 devices on the pin and on the committee boat.

These screens present RaceSense persevering with to work up the course, and I’ll guess that some readers already notice that the core enabling GNSS precision gained’t matter a lot if the wi-fi community isn’t quick and dependable. Properly, I used to be stunned to be taught the Atlas 2 makes use of Bluetooth for all its networking — a method it achieves “100+ hours” of battery life — however then I realized that it’s utilizing a particular type of BLE 5 with extra sign amplification, and that the Bluetooth SIG confirms the “greater than a kilometer” Vakaros vary declare.

Furthermore, the Bluetooth Mesh specification signifies that a racer’s Atlas 2 solely has to take care of a reference to one different boat to remain on the community, and it may additionally allow cellular phone bridging to the Web for spectators close to and much.

So RaceSense will get me fascinated about how precision telemetry has improved America’s Cup racing for opponents, race managers, and spectators alike — a phenomenon I noticed up shut in San Diego and San Francisco, after which summarized in “Geeks win America’s Cup 34…” Varakos is attempting to do related for extra modest boats at way more modest prices. Formidable!

One other characteristic of the Atlas system is the Varakos Join app — iOS right here and Android right here –that can be utilized to configure a number of devices, obtain detailed knowledge logs for later evaluate, or customise the consumer interface. Additionally, integration with Airmar Bluetooth-enabled transducers just like the newish DST810 and the high-end DX900+ have been supported for some time and the Calypso ultrasonic wi-fi wind sensor — nonetheless working effective in my lengthy testing — simply joined the membership.

J70 race start (courtesy
J70 race begin (courtesy

However can an Atlas 2 assist a single boat handle the problems of, say, a wickedly dense J70 race begin? Can RaceSense community and exactly observe the entire fleet? Varakos says that many race committees have already expressed curiosity in giving RaceSense a strive and so they’re hustling now to make it occur throughout winter occasions. I hope to share their testing outcomes as attainable and encourage any reader who will get any Atlas 2 expertise to chime in.

In the meantime, dual-band L1/L5 multi-constellation GNNS is already obtainable to the broader boat world within the type of the Garmin GPS 24xd (and certainly one of their engineers properly defined L5 historical past and profit). Thoughts you, this NMEA 2000 receiver doesn’t have the Atlas 2’s 25-times-per-second GNSS refresh fee nor does it fuse that information with 9-axis movement sensing at 50 Hz. However GPS 24xd customers might be getting higher outcomes from demanding options like Garmin Begin Steerage.

What else can ultra-precise GNNS do for boaters as L5 transmitting satellites and comparatively cheap multi-band receiver chips proliferate? Your ideas, please.

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