Germans Pin Olympic Hopes on Technology Edge

Advanced technology evaluating water currents and wind speed could provide Germany’s Olympic sailing hopefuls with a favorable edge and help them overcome Britain’s local knowledge, according to a top German sailing official.

“We have to realize that (technology) does influence results,” coordinator of the Sailing Team Germany Academy, Joachim Hellmich told Reuters in an interview before the Olympic sailing program began in Weymouth.

“The more technology you have in your discipline, the more you will see countries like Germany, the United States and others with a strong technological base do a better job.”

Developed with the team’s sponsor, software giant SAP, and German scientist Ingo Buell von der Burchardt, buoys outfitted with finely-tuned GPS sensors are dropped into the water to measure the speed and direction of currents.

The data collected is then combined with wind flow models designed by researchers from Berlin’s Technical University.

The “current prediction tool,” accurate to within 0.1 knots (0.12 miles per hour), helps sailors determine the optimal route in a race, Hellmich said.

It is an example of how the Olympics not only push athletes to the limits of their abilities but also drive innovation as teams look for new ways to boost their chances in their quest for Olympic gold.

“The Olympics are an important driving force,” said Stefan Lacher, the head of technology for SAP sponsorships, while adding he was unaware of any other team employing similar technology.

“I know that other nations have tried putting environmentally-friendly color in the water and then taking pictures from a helicopter to see where the color goes.”

“And lots of guys use things like good old milk bottles – throw it in and calculate time by doing a rough sketch of where you put it in and where it comes out.”

Another tool in the Germans’ technological box is computer software that solves the problem of experienced sailors leaving the team without passing on knowledge to younger generations in any way except via word of mouth.

Known as the Sail Better Trim and Venue Database, the program aggregates data in a central location, helping the team remember advice from veteran sailors, collects performance analyses of practice runs and even detailed information on specific courses.

“There isn’t a nation working the same way as we are with Trim and Venue,” Hellmich said, adding that while technology can improve a team’s chances of winning, even the best software does not guarantee a haul of medals.

Hellmich said technology probably accounts for no more than 40 percent of success in sailing – the rest is down to teamwork and technical and tactical knowledge.

“(The athletes) still have to drive the boats and make the final and most important decisions,” Hellmich said. ”They have to react.”

Courtesy of www.nbcolympics.com

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