Last weekend I was at the F1 race in Austin as Qualcomm’s guest and it was an amazing race not the least of which was because the Mercedes AMG Petronas team that Qualcomm supported won. I’ve been to many F1 races over the years and the connection between tech and this race has been very powerful historically with some interesting and unique technology tie-ins.
Let’s talk F1 racing and how tech is starting to be a much bigger differentiator in cars (both street cars and race cars), now an and into the future.
Tech Tie-Ins I Remember
One of the most interesting uses of tech was regarding the notebooks some of the teams use. You see, the vibrations coming off the engines often caused the hard drives in notebooks to catastrophically fail and the only notebook that seemed to take up the slack was the ToughBook from Panasonic because it was built to military specifications and the drive was both unique and massively shock protected. So ToughBooks would survive where most other notebooks would not.
AMD—back when Ferrari was winning these things—used to have a major position with that team and they worked with Acer to create a Ferrari notebook. This became one of my favorites, both because it looked good in Ferrari red and because its boot sound was a revving F1 engine. Like the car it was also powerful at the time. One of the funniest things, though, was that Intel sponsored one of—if not the—slowest and most unreliable teams on the track, so you’d see the AMD car winning while typically the Intel car would break down. One time it looked like the driver was taking a nap while on the front of the car while waiting for the flatbed truck to take him and his car off the track.
But, most technology vendors don’t have that much to do with the car or the race. Qualcomm, however, is fascinatingly different.
Qualcomm’s Competitive Advantage
Where Qualcomm helps the Mercedes AMD Petronas team out is with wireless connections. You see the cars are limited regarding what is allowed for telematics (information coming off the car) during the race and so they must do a high-speed data dump when they come into the pits. In addition, to collect this information they need a huge and increasing number of sensors—particularly watching for overheating or parts failures—so the car doesn’t come apart. For instance, on a prior race, the road surface was so rough it caused the carbon fiber in the cars to delaminate and fail catastrophically. Having sensors that can identify this problem prior to failure and radios that can report it not only help a team like the Mercedes AMG Petronas team win—it helps them keep their drivers living.
Currently, reverse telematics isn’t allowed on the race course. Teams can’t remotely adjust the cars for conditions, however, they can in theory do updates in the pits. This would suggest that similar technology in the future should be able to even more aggressively, accurately, and effectively improve cars during a race and see in real-time what the results are.
Eventually, I expect much of this will be done by deep learning AI engines that will near instantly identify problems, package up fixes, and then allow the team to flash update the car in the pits, or more rapidly identify the parts that need to be fixed. On this last point it appears Qualcomm is also working with the team to use AR (augmented reality) to further speed up this process with the potential to significantly shorten pit times in the future.
One of the interesting things regarding the F1 sensors is the one monitoring tire temperature. You see if the tires are too cold they don’t stick at all and it is like driving on ice. When the tires are at the perfect temperature they stick well, and when the tires got too hot they kind of turn into pudding, which is disgusting.
On street cars like my Jaguar F-Type or the Tesla S, manufacturers introduce aggressive camber to improve handling, but this causes the tires to wear on the inside far faster than the outside. So, if you are one of the few folks that checks you tires regularly—and you should—you won’t see that the tire is ready to blow because the wear is where you can’t see it. That light on your dash that alerts to low tire pressure (which is part of a wireless system by the way) will tell you that you have a problem at about the same time you get a blow out and are heading off the road ballistically. We need a sensor that monitors tread wear so that we can get this problem fixed before we go from driving a car to riding in a very low-flying cruise missile.
We need similar technology to what the F1 cars have for much the same reason they have it—to keep us from making our heirs happy. Other technology that Qualcomm is working on is resonance charging so these sensors don’t have to be hard wired (and so we don’t have to charge our electric cars), and that AR stuff I mentioned above could help us, or our mechanics, to locate and fix correctly stuff that breaks or may soon break.
F1 and the kind of technology Qualcomm is developing will make our cars safer while making them faster and far easier to work on. Of course, I’d love to go back to the time where we saw more cars we could buy racing on tracks but F1 is a ton of fun to watch and the technology coming out of that race is once again being tied to advances in our own cars and that is a good thing.