ECONZ's Mobile Technology Underpins Cup Coverage

When television audiences watch real-time animation of America's Cup yacht races later this year, most will be unaware of the technology's origins: in New Zealand taxis, couriers and logging trucks.

Auckland systems integrator and mobile wireless communications specialist ECONZ (Electronic Company of New Zealand) has souped up technology previously used to track vehicles for the task of supplying high-speed animation data for the Americas Cup races.

ECONZ started outfitting 16 boats and five marker buoys last week with rugged mobile computers that will transmit the boats' positions on the water to the shore via Telecom's cellular (CDPD) network, so it can then be displayed on television, says ECONZ business development manager Terry Stearns. "We are responsible for getting the live data off the water and on to dry land where it is provided by Telecom to other partners, clients and customers."

An on-board Trimble GPS receiver and antenna will enable each boat's position to be placed within about 1 meter at all times, says Stearns.

Mobile data terminals (MDTs) will transmit data on wind speed, direction, latitude and longitude to a CDPD communications device then to a Telecom cell site and finally onwards to a secure building where Animation Research will produce the graphics from the positional data, he says.

In the Louis Vuitton Cup "round robins," the images will go to Internet suppliers and be screened on the display wall at the Viaduct Basin media center. For the semifinals of the Louis Vuitton Cup, and for the America's Cup itself, the images will be live on television in the US and New Zealand, says Stearns.

ECONZ wireless data manager Steve Sumner says ECONZ was awarded the Telecom contract as it was the "only company with real experience of the CDPD network". He says the main reason for Telecom installing the network were the requirements of CourierPost's dispatch system, which ECONZ designed and implemented from 1996 to 1997.

Project leader and engineer John Clarkson says the benefits of CDPD, as opposed to traditional data radio links, are that multiple data streams can be delivered to a single location with minimal latency and high security. "It is important to minimize the delays in getting the data from the boats to the television -- otherwise it is difficult to synchronize camera images with animation pictures," he says.

ECONZ developed the technology for companies including CourierPost, MainFreight and the Automobile Association. "It's technology we've used before, we're just putting it together in a slightly different way," says Clarkson.

Telecom, in conjunction with fellow sponsor Ericsson, is the official supplier of telecomms for the America's Cup.

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