Now, Formula 1 has found an area in which it has once again become an important laboratory. This time, however, it does not involve the mechanics of the car, but the electronic, intelligent, and “interconnected” environment of the track and how that serves as a development area for the so-called “connected” road car of the future.
Likewise, Singapore, in the downtown of which the Singapore Grand Prix takes place, is developing a more connected city, relying on fiber optics throughout the country to expand use of data.
“What we are doing is a metaphor for what Singapore is doing within the city,” said Peter van Manen, managing director of McLaren Electronic Systems, which is part of the McLaren Group that owns the McLaren racing team.
The trends in the auto industry over the next decade will involve energy efficiency and emission reductions, safety, and the reduction of traffic-related deaths. This is where the connected car, which refers to an interconnection between the car and the environment, comes in to play. The industry that is developing the connected car has decided to use Formula 1 as a laboratory, as the series is years ahead of the auto industry on these issues.
More and more, cars have become electronic databases of information, with traditional mechanics being replaced by computer functions. But in the truly connected car of the future, everything from avoiding traffic jams and mapping itineraries to drivers’ aids will be guided by electronic systems in order to be make cars more energy efficient and reduce accidents. The connected car would be designed to remove the unpredictability of other drivers, allow an early warning of their future actions and even take over driving in case of an emergency.
For 20 years, Formula 1 has been developing an environment in which the racing car, the team staff and racing officials are all connected through computers, antennae and cables. During every one-and-a-half-hour race, data travels from each of the 24 cars at two megabits per second to the central control tower and teams, delivering to the pit garage 750 million numbers of data. At each Grand Prix, there is about 40 gigabytes of real-time data from all the cars on the grid, which is the equivalent of all of the sensors, switches and lighting of one of the big shopping centers in Singapore.
“We are taking data from the cars to understand the cars, to help manage that, and this is starting to happen in the automotive world,” van Manen said. “We are using the marshaling system in Formula 1 to help to manage the traffic around the race track, to manage the effects of accidents — with the safety cars, etc. — and in the larger automotive world, we are moving to a situation we already have where you have dynamic traffic management, which is based on what is happening with the vehicles.”
Much of what is necessary for such a system is similar to what is already found in Formula 1, in terms of an infrastructure that is robust enough to manage what van Manen called the imperfections of the world, but is also able to deal with vehicles that are moving quickly through areas that are not ideal for wireless connectivity.
So Formula 1 is a laboratory for the Freescale Semiconductor company of Austin, Texas, which sells semiconductors to the auto industry. Freescale works with McLaren to study how the semiconductors are used.
“What we get out of this is a fantastic lab environment,” said Steve Wainwright, Freescale’s general manager for Europe. “The time from design, development and into production is always a lot quicker in Formula 1. With engine management, for example, on road cars, it is very usual for that to be a seven-year period, from the start of development to actually being in a road car. Formula One is a lot quicker.”
The two companies provide all the cars in the series with a standard electronic brain, called an ECU, which connects more than 120 sensors and records 500 different parameters in real time.