How McLaren is taking high-tech connectivity to a new level

In a world where technology is turning even the most unlikely of sci-fi into reality, the cutting-edge F1 team works with its partner to explore every area of ​​technology that could give them an advantage on and off the track.

As Chief Technology Officer for Cisco UK and Ireland, Chintan Patel works with the company’s sports and entertainment partners to “bring technology up to speed” and he believes there are some big strides on the horizon for F1.

“In motorsport, milliseconds matter and the underlying technology that powers McLaren as a racing team is really important,” he says. “Our work is about making them faster, but also pushing the boundaries of fan experiences.

“There’s a huge range of technologies that we can use to do this, and it all started during the pandemic when racing wasn’t happening and teams needed to work together in new ways.”

We’ll talk more about Lando in your living room later. At the moment, technology and innovation at McLaren is all about big data, high speeds and finding ways to bring people together, even when they are miles apart.

“As the car continues to evolve and add new capabilities, so does our technology,” says Patel. “What we are exploring with McLaren is how we can achieve faster and more reliable communication across the entire team network.

“It’s about anything that can be connected, to be connected. We’re seeing this whole concept of the Internet of Things – and more and more things are being connected from a track perspective.

“More and more assets are being connected so they can be tracked. Sensors get attached to all sorts of things and there is a massive amount of telemetry coming from all of these components.”

Data transmission in F1 is becoming increasingly stressed and Patel and his team are constantly pushing to explore network technologies to expand McLaren’s capability. Their current focus is on a new form of Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi 6E.

This not only allows more things to be connected securely, but also additional intelligence, allowing important data – like live telemetry data in the car – to be prioritized over, say, someone in the workshop checking their Facebook feed.

It’s the little things that count in Formula 1 and this is a good example of a behind-the-scenes innovation that McLaren and its partner are exploring that could pay off very soon.

“It’s in the testing phase right now, so we’re going to use the coming months to test, and then often the off-season happens where you start setting things up so they’re ready for next season.”

In the slipstream

McLaren has pioneered the use of Cisco’s industry-leading video collaboration solution, Webex, to bring its team members closer together around the world, both in its offices at the base and out at the racetrack.

In a fast-paced world where multinational teams are working against the clock and need to pool their expertise to improve performance, it’s important to ensure everyone’s voice is heard – sometimes quite literally.

This is where attention to detail can make all the difference, and Patel explains: “There is generally a lot of noise in the environment where McLaren operates, so we used AI technology to actually filter out all that background noise.

“This was a game changer for many organizations and for McLaren it meant team members could hear each other no matter where they were. This is now a mainstream feature embedded in the platform.

“Things like gesture recognition too. When you don’t want to talk because everyone is focused on the race, the system’s AI can actually detect when someone is physically taking an action, raising a hand, or showing a thumbs up.

“It had some interesting uses, and the real-time translation capability also became very important because it eliminated language barriers that might have existed.

“We also do a lot of things with the camera technology to automatically frame the person speaking, zoom in, and then frame back. It actually improves the experience for the remote participant.”

For fans, McLaren used the same technology to create “Slipstream,” which launched during the pandemic to bring fans closer to the action and has evolved to offer interactive competitions, driver chat and exclusive VIP access.

“F1 fans are probably some of the most passionate in the sports industry and there is a constant desire to stay engaged,” adds Patel. “Slipstream really provided an opportunity to expand into new types of experiences.

“A highly secure, robust and reliable digital platform for mission-critical operations then becomes extremely important – because at the end of the day it is only live once.”

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL36

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL36

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

A sci-fi future

Which brings us back to that far-fetched sci-fi vision. “That’s the part I’m pretty excited about,” says Patel. “It’s something we’ve already started with McLaren, working around what we call the Webex hologram.”

This incredible new groundbreaking technology was announced earlier this year and if you haven’t seen it yet, prepare to be amazed. It might sound like a gimmick, but holograms could be the next step for F1 engineers and fans alike.

“A few years ago we thought, ‘what if we could build an experience that was themed on the Jedi Council’ – if you’re a Star War fan,” says Patel. “We came up with this idea from this little idea.

“While a lot of the augmented reality or virtual reality space is about avatars, our fundamental belief is that they shouldn’t be avatars, they should be as lifelike and as human as possible.”

“The engineering team came up with an amazing view where you can interact with physical objects in a 3D representation in different locations – and we worked with McLaren using this holographic photorealistic technology.”

It could be helpful for the McLaren design team to be able to better connect different departments in different locations and review new parts being manufactured or prototyped from the racetrack.

It could also allow the team at the track to actually interact with remote engineers and production staff and agree on new changes. But for fans, it could open the door to some possibilities that sound even more exciting.

“We haven’t even tapped the surface yet,” adds Patel. “It’s really cutting edge and we think there’s a whole host of new things that you could potentially do in the future.

“Imagine if you’re a fan you could have one of the drivers projected into your home. It would be possible, and it would actually look and feel like one of the drivers was there.

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36, throws sparks

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36, throws sparks

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Pictures

“Beyond that, there are so many advancements in this type of technology and I think the next-gen fan experience could be phenomenal in terms of real-time haptic feedback, you feel what the driver is feeling.

“If you take all of these things, the one constant that pulls it all together is the network. It touches everything – the car; the driver; the staff; the garage; the headquarters. It’s the one underlying platform that brings everything to life.

“I don’t want to anticipate what McLaren intends to do with it. We’re just trying to make sure we share the art of the possible. We’re only touching the surface of it, but the ability is absolutely there now.”

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