by Natalie Miller • @natalieatWIS

SilverHook powerboats race to the finish with real-time analytics, IoT

Published April 28, 2015


Offshore powerboat racing is an exhilarating sport complete with high speeds, open water, and a little bit of danger. But until recently, fan were stuck miles away from the action, limited to race updates and restricted camera angles from crews following the event; and boat drivers were on their own to battle the sea and beat their competitors.

Today, viewers are transported to races around the world and can follow right alongside the boats in real time thanks to an application that draws predictive analytics and the Internet of Things and uses cloud technology to make the event come to life on iPads and mobile devices.

The application was developed in just three weeks through a collaboration of companies drawing expertise in both technology and racing. Nigel Hook, the CEO of DataSkill, an IBM Partner, and the CEO of SilverHook Powerboats, partnered with Ian Taylor, the CEO of Virtual Eye, the sports division of New Zealand company Animation Research Ltd., last year to get this application up and running using IBM Bluemix and the Internet of Things.

Company At a Glance >>


  • Company Name: SilverHook Powerboats
  • Headquarters: San Diego, California
  • Industry: Powerboats
  • Founded: 2010
  • Website:

Company Details: Forged through many successful racing years in the turbulent waters off the coast of Europe, the SilverHook is setting the pace in today’s world championship series. Conceived as the ultimate Offshore V Hull race boat, the prototype SilverHook is full carbon fiber construction weighing in at just over 9,000 lb. with a pair of 1,000+ hp engines and a rudder / surface drive configuration. This boat is now available in both race and pleasure versions with either surface drive / rudder configuration or stern drives. SilverHook Powerboats are available in two “Grand Prix” race models, enclosed canopy two and four seat versions.

IBM solutions:

IBM Bluemix

IBM Internet of Things Foundation 

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“The catalyst to this is the IBM jStart team and their technology,” says Hook. “It’s been a full collaboration.”

Through IBM’s new service that is part of Bluemix called the IBM Internet of Things Foundation, SilverHook is able to virtualize the sport and track boats all around the work in real time, an exciting upgrade from the previous task of pulling coordinates to find the boats location. And even then, says Hook, fans would receive updates on the race and know where the boats were, but they couldn’t actually watch the action in real time.

“Now, using the cloud and IBM analytics, we’re taking 80 sources of data off the boat in real-time at five, 10 times a second for each of those, and firing them up to the cloud,” says Taylor.

The application takes the vast amount of data that’s coming off those boats—which travel an average of 150 miles per hour—into the cloud, allowing the viewer to see the race from multiple points of view.

We are moving at 140 miles an hour; we are making split decisions; it’s really critical to know what’s going on in the boat at the time when we can actually do something about it.

Nigel Hook, CEO, SilverHook Powerboats

A pioneer in the visualization field, Taylor and a core team of two developers and a college professor created Virtual Eye and developed the first ever 3D virtualization of any sport in the world in real time—first used in the America’s Cup sailboat racing event in San Diego in 1992.

“At that time, the only data they were able to pull from the boats was and X, Y coordinate of where it was off the back of the boat,” he says. “The computer we used, the only computer that could run it, was a Silicon Graphics machine that was the size of a small refrigerator and cost a half a million dollars. It stayed like that until 2000. In 2003, the computer was $5,000 and the size of a shoebox; and 2004 we did the first one on the phone and now here we are. So it’s this hockey stick curve in not only the hardware, but the data that’s available.”

Changing the sport both on shore and in the water
Not only is this real-time data analysis able to bring the race to the public, but it also revolutionizes how the cockpit drivers in boat tackle the race.

The cockpit of a powerboat is an intense environment when racing across the water at high speeds, says Hook, who has been part of the sport his whole life. Therefore, the ability to have better visibility into what is doing on inside the boat and out on the water is critical.

“We are moving at 140 miles an hour; we are making split decisions; it’s really critical to know what’s going on in the boat at the time when we can actually do something about it,” he says. “Having that data, having that information there, is the difference sometimes between winning and losing. My job as the throttle man of the boat, I control the speed of the boat, the roll of the boat, and the pitch. At the same time, I am constantly scanning the sea conditions to see how the water is. I’m looking at the competition to see where they are. But I also need to scan the gauges, because at the same time I have to make sure all the systems in the boat are performing optimally.

Now, using the cloud and IBM analytics, we’re taking 80 sources of data off the boat in real-time at five, 10 times a second for each of those, and firing them up to the cloud.

Ian Taylor, CEO, Virtual Eye

By not having to worry about the gauges and the other mechanical workings on the boat, Hook can concentrate on flying the boat as fast as possible to the finish line. How does he accomplish this with the new application? Though IBM’s predicative analytics software, all the data from the boat is streamed into the cloud, filtered and sorted by importance, and then the most critical information for Hook is sent back to him in the boat—all in real time.

To track this information without this technology requires eyes on different sets of gauges. “It’s hard to see one gauge let alone all of them when you are banging around [on the water], so having this type of technology for me is very important,” says Hook.

To build the analytics within IBM Bluemix, Hook, Taylor, and his team used all the historical data to pull out patterns to find important information. “For example, one of the things we found out through the historical data is that if the boost pressure on the superchargers starts to accelerate, fuel pressure has to track to that,” says Hook. “If fuel pressure is going down you can blow an engine. So that’s one of the algorithms that is built in this, to look for those sorts of things.”

And the system is learning, too, he adds. In the next phase of the application, it will start to learn what to look for and what is important to the boat’s operator in the cockpit. “I don’t want to be inundated with data or alerts. I just want to know about the ones that are important, because I’m watching where the competitors are running.

With the cloud and IBM Bluemix, it’s quick and seamless to pull out services without the need to go through many steps. “We got the log-in set up, and then you just go to the website and it’s all done virtually so you don’t need to install anything, which is convenient,” says Janet Wilson, General Manager, SilverHook, who worked in Bluemix on the data modeling. “And you’re just working in the cloud. There were no real problems. With the Bluemix dashboard, all the pieces are there and you just decide what you want to use.”

IBM Bluemix not only cuts down on development time and speeds implementation time, which is a cost savings in and of itself, but Taylor adds that this new digital way to work allows for collaboration across the world. This global dispersing of the work leads to quicker, more innovative results. “It’s really impossible to gauge the power of that,” he says. “The Internet has turned the world into a village. And it’s a village that’s getting smaller. This thing we did in three weeks is just one example of that happening.”

The Internet has turned the world into a village. And it’s a village that’s getting smaller. This thing we did in three weeks is just one example of that happening.

Ian Taylor, CEO, Virtual Eye

‘The possibilities are endless’
The power of this technology to transform not only the sporting industry, but also businesses across verticals is boundless, says Taylor. “Sport is a great vehicle to show off this technology and what it can do for business. Everyone understands sport and now business people can see it working there.”

The amount of data these systems collect is massive, but the cloud together with IBM Bluemix manages and analyses this data in a consumable way that business executives can understand, adds Hook.

“It’s all coming together as the technology becomes more available and services on Bluemix become more available so that enables people to rapidly develop and deploy these applications,” he says. “The possibilities for the future are endless. I want to see this applicable in other business environments, because again, if you can take all of this technology and all of this equipment and this rich visualization and apply it in sports, you can apply it to [things like] heath care.”

But back to the water, for Hook and his powerboats, this technology not only allows him to become a more efficient racer, it more importantly, he says, takes the experience of power racing into the home of the consumer.

“Right now it’s out on the ocean and you need the cloud to be able to enhance that experience for the consumer, so people can really enjoy the sport,” he says. “So we hope this will really transition the sport—which is a worldwide sport that’s been around over 100 years, but very few people know about it. I’d like to see the sport, which has been my life, just be shared by many more people than it currently is.”



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