CAD System Puts Wind in Cup Challenger's Sails

The race for the America's Cup is extremely competitive. The world's most celebrated boating event, it dates from 1851. But the competition for the oldest trophy in international sport begins months, even years, before the boats hit the water. AmericaOne, the San Francisco-based challenger for the America's Cup, relied on computer-aided design (CAD), Internet collaboration tools and a passion for sailing and design to build two of the world's fastest sailboats.

An America's Cup challenge is very secretive, and design is critical. Competitors hold off on building their boats for as long as possible to first consider every possible design and innovation. "An extraordinary sailor in a slow boat will rarely beat an ordinary sailor in a fast boat," says Bob Billingham, chief operating officer of AmericaOne.

Unlike other development projects, however, the deadline never slips. The product has to be delivered in a finite amount of time and with one primary purpose: to win the most prestigious race in boating history. "It's an aerodynamic and hydrodynamic problem," says Robert Hook, sail designer for AmericaOne. "It's like building an airplane that is half underwater and half above."

Using San Rafael, Calif.-based Autodesk Inc.'s AutoCAD and Volo View Internet collaboration tools, AmericaOne's 40 naval architects, fluid dynamists, research scientists and structural analysts were able to share drawings and concepts in real time with the crew and builders who were scattered from California to New Zealand. "Technology changes the competitiveness of the race," says Gina Von Esmarch, marketing director for AmericaOne. "The ability to collaborate from any location, using the Internet, means that you don't just get the best engineers and designers in the area - you get the best in the world."

Before CAD, the AmericaOne design team could examine only six designs per campaign. Team members had to be assembled in one location or receive information via mail or fax. The phone offered the only real-time collaboration among remote team members but left the door open for incomplete or misunderstood conversations.

Typically, boat design is a serial process, starting with a hull model, then the keel and finally the sail, with very little communication among the different design teams. Using modeling and collaboration tools, however, the AmericaOne team was able to integrate its design efforts and consider thousands of alternatives. Design changes such as an innovation to the sail, which affected the mast's position and the weighting of the keel, were implemented much more quickly and easily than with previous design processes.

The 2000 America's Cup, which was held off the coast of Auckland, New Zealand, in January and February, was a closely contested race. AmericaOne lost to the Italian Prada Challenge team's Luna Rossa by seconds. Team New Zealand ultimately won the Cup.

Looking back, the U.S. team reflects on what it accomplished in an astonishingly short time. The project was driven by passion - with many team members donating their time and expertise for the chance to regain a title and national pride. Technology and the Internet have changed competitive boating and the perception of yacht racing.

"With the help of the Internet, we caught America's attention," Von Esmarch says.

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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