America’s Cup 2013

Have you seen any of the qualifying races for the America’s Cup? It’s worth watching.

The official America’s Cup racing starts this weekend, but the Vuitton Cup (which selects the challenger for the big race) just wrapped up. The new boats are just incredible. They are giant catamarans with immense rigid sails (airplane wings, really) and hydrofoil keels that pop them out of the water. And they fly. They’re moving at top speeds of over 50 miles per hour. They can sustain speeds of over 40 knots even as they come around a mark. As one of the commentators remarked, this leads to a new situation for sailors: high g-forces on the job.

But one of the most exciting things about the experience of watching the race has nothing to do with the boats themselves. It has to do with the way the race is presented on TV. Sailboat racing is a difficult sport to follow partly because so much that happens is hard to visualize. There’s no race track. Skippers can move on divergent paths for long periods, making it hard at times to even know who’s in the lead.

The augmented reality of overlaid computer graphics adds a lot of extra information, as this video from IEEE Spectrum makes clear: the speed of each boat, their tracks over the water, the wind direction, tidal currents, course boundaries, and more.

It’s easy to guess that, if people go for this kind of coverage in a big way, it will be applied to other sports. We already have the virtual “first down” line in football games. Imagine predictive baseball graphics showing you where that ball is going to drop in the outfield as the fielder runs it down. Or maybe other heretofore boring sports will get sexed up with augmentative graphics. Bowling with superimposed strike points, or curling with virtual dancing brooms. The mind boggles. Stay tuned!

Bonus coverage: here’s the Tech Crunch version of the story.