Formula One puts you in the Grand Prix with VR and AR

Last week, Formula One and Tata Communications provided a peek into the future of motorsport when they announced the winners of its 2016 F1 Connectivity Innovation Prize, focused on fan-created virtual reality and augmented reality apps.

When it comes to cars, there can be little question that Formula 1 is at the bleeding edge, pushing the limits of engineering. So, it is fitting that it is now helping to push the limits of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).

For the third year running, the motor racing competition's "Official Connectivity Provider," Tata Communications (also the Official Managed Connectivity Supplier of the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team), operated the F1 Connectivity Innovation Prize — which seeks to leverage F1's legacy of innovation to inspire fans around the world to harness their technical expertise and passion for the sport to drive their own innovation.

datu and lewis

2016 F1 Connectivity Innovation Prize Winner Datu YogaBrata of Singapore (left) stands with Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team race driver Lewis Hamilton after accepting the grand prize for his Virtual Trackside Experience app.

This year, Tata and F1 issued two challenges focused on VR and AR. The first challenge, issued in conjunction with Formula One Management, was to design an end-to-end VR/AR solution that provides fans an immersive Formula 1 Grand Prix experience that gives fans, no matter where they are in the world, the feeling of being at the track.

The second challenge was issued in conjunction with the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team. It invited entrants to design a virtual and/or augmented reality solution that would allow engineers both on and off the track to work better as an integrated virtual unit.

While the first challenge has the potential to engage car racing enthusiasts like never before, the second has the potential to transform race operations at a fundamental level.

"It goes beyond just a visual image," says Mehul Kapadia, managing director of the F1 Business at Tata Communications. "In real-time, they need to be able to access different components. Each car has like 80,000 components that must come together. They literally build each car at the race track."

F1 cars are customized for every track and associated weather conditions.

While a large F1 team might have about 60 technical staff on site at the race, teams can have up to about 600 staff. Leading up to a race and on race day, most of that staff will be back at the team's factory, which could be on the other side of the globe from the race. Each car, Kapadia notes, has about 200 data sensors that continuously provide about 2,000 data points, which are fed back to the factory and analyzed in real-time.

Kapadia says VR and AR provides the potential to help staff back at the factory better understand what their onsite colleagues are experiencing and therefore collaborate with them more efficiently and productively.

And the winners ....

Three winners were named for each challenge. The six winners were then eligible to win the 2016 F1 Connectivity Innovation Prize.

The three winners of the Virtual Operations Challenge were the following:

  • Benjamin van Caspel (Australia). van Caspel submitted an augmented reality interface that improves the performance of engineers and mechanics, both trackside and in the Race Support Room (RSR). It uses Microsoft Hololens to display data in intuitive places in the space around the users. Key information is displayed in real-time, allowing both sets of teams to share their own observations, deeply analyze data to make more informed decisions and react rapidly to changes.
  • Leire Apraiz Elcoroiribe and Marco Einöder (Spain). Elcoroiribe and Einöder also designed an AR solution. It allows engineers to point the camera of a mobile or tablet device at a car, revealing multiple informative hotspots overlaid on the screen. RSR and trackside working teams using the solution use VR as a communication interface, taking advantage of wearable technologies to provide an integrated holistic view point of every factor during a race.
  • Tom Blockley and Richard Howells (U.K.). Blockley and Howells turned to a fully self-contained holographic headset for their solution. With it, engineers can view and interact with important actions and data at a glance in both VR and AR environments via a processing app. An interactive 'Virtual Race Center' streamlines operations by virtually transporting the RSR engineers to the trackside environment and vice versa.

The Formula One Management Virtual Fan Experience Challenge also had these three winners:

  • James Gough and Richard Pilsbury (U.K.) Gough and Pilsbury submitted a mobile application that gives fans the ability to view near-live 360-degree videos, using VR, from any Grand Prix in the world. Users can navigate through various locations at the race by looking at 'hotspots' within the app, while AR provides additional information at points of interest. For instance, driver statistics appear when viewing the Formula One Drivers' Track Parade.
  • Paul Clarke (Australia). Clarke, who won the top prize in 2015, calls his submission OMNI. It uses VR and AR to replicate the trackside atmosphere and shows how fans could be immersed in the action as if they were live at the event. A complementary feature, the 'Virtual Village' alls fans to control what they want to see, whether it's a live 360-degree video of the pit lane, social media interactions or guided tours of off-track activities.
  • Datau YogaBrata (Singapore). YogaBrata's 'Virtual Trackside Experience' uses VR to give fans live panoramic 360-degree visuals captured by multiple agents, roaming the circuit with wearable VR equipment. It integrates AR as well, giving fans the ability to select specific objects that reveal additional information. For instance, fans could look at an F1 car to reveal tire choices. YogaBrata also includes a gamification element, allowing fans to compete against each other in finding 'hidden stars' with the VR environment.

At a ceremony at the 2016 Formula 1 United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, last week, YogaBrata's entry took top honors, clinching the $50,000 top trophy of the competition. Kapadia, who was part of the judging panel, says YogaBrata's entry won the top prize due to its integration of ultra-immersive VR with AR elements.

"There's no bigger or more powerful showcase for innovation than F1, and VR and AR will push the excitement of the sport even further," YogaBrata said in a statement last week. "My idea aims to capitalize on that by bringing fans closer to the exciting world of F1 than ever before. I'm thrilled that the judges saw the potential of my virtual trackside experience for fans."

"It is great to be a part of the F1 Connectivity Innovation Prize and to see first-hand fans become part of the F1 action in real time, in addition to watching on their TV or phone," added Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team race driver Lewis Hamilton, who presented YogaBrata's prize. "The winning solution from Datu YogaBrata gives us a glimpse of what the future of F1 could look like — and how we will be able to share so much more of our race weekend at the track with people at home. I would love it as a fan!"

Hamilton and Kapadia were joined on the judging panel by John Morrison, CTO of Formula One Management; Paddy Lowe, executive director (Technical) of the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team; David Coulthard, former F1 race driver and F1 commentator; and Martin Brundle, former F1 race driver and F1 commentator.

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