Guiding Racing Yachts with Ultrasonic Sensors

In 2013, Oracle Team USA pulled off a great achievement winning the America’s Cup race with one of the most efficient and modern sailing vessels ever constructed - the AC72-class yacht, USA-17, a 100’ long, 90’ wide and 223’ is a towering carbon fiber technological wonder capable of skimming the waves at speeds in excess of 50 knots (57 mph).

The yacht appears to “fly” above the surface of the water as hydrofoils raise the entire hull clear of the waves, which is effective in significantly reducing the vessel’s drag. Sailing and navigating this triumph of engineering required over 300 advanced sensors and an elaborate computer control technology system. With more than 3,000 data variables per second captured and generated over a variety of formats on cockpit displays, PDA’s strapped to sailor’s arms, on tablets mounted around the vessel, reliability, strength and precision are key.

Ultrasonic Sensors Measure Hydrofoiling Distance

The foiling process is believed to be one of the vital components when considering navigational elements to controlling the AC-72-class yacht. Mounting ToughSonic 30 ultrasonic sensors on each of the outboard hulls enables precision measurements of the vessel’s distance from the ocean’s surface to be carried out – this acts as a kind of liquid level measurement in reverse.

To further achieve maximum capacity regarding ride height and speed, data from the ultrasonic sensors is used in conjunction with the data from accelerometers and other sensors. Knowing exactly where the exact position of the vessel relative to the surface of the water at all times is vital, it is also particularly essential for safe and effective handling. Jose Luis Vela, Oracle Team USA Data Analyst and Instrumentation Engineer, stated, “We drive the boat based on sensor data. The foiling requires real-time information that is fast and completely accurate. We selected Senix ultrasonic sensors after extensive testing in a variety of high-speed marine conditions.”

See this engineering marvel accelerate on hydrofoils in the Oracle Team USA video below:

Oracle Boat Wins America’s Cup Guided by Senix ToughSonic Ultrasonic Sensors

Tough Smart Sensors

Another key factor, in addition to high sensor processing speed and accuracy, is the reliability of the sensors. Just one single malfunction or miscalculation from an onboard sensor could be critical. It may not only cost the team a race, but it could also produce a serious safety risk and lead towards disaster.

The Senix ultrasonic sensors were chosen not just for their robust construction and exceptional reputation for durability but for their performance reliability in a wide range of conditions. Jose Luis Vela noted that “The ToughSonic sensors work like new even after three years of training races in harsh ocean conditions. They have worked perfectly since the very first day. We have never had to touch them.”


This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Senix Corporation.

For more information on this source, please visit Senix Corporation.


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