On 22 September 2023, during the Défi Azimut Lorient Agglomération, Bretagne Développement Innovation and Audélor organised a day of conferences and round tables as part of the Eurolarge Innovation programme at the Cité de la Voile-Éric Tabarly in Lorient. The event focused on the current issues surrounding artificial intelligence (AI), foil technologies and energy on board racing yachts, with the participation of a number of experts. Here’s a look back at these intense and technical discussions.
How are those involved in competitive sailing benefiting from AI?
The first major topic discussed at the event was the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in competitive sailing. Xavier Guisnel, Engineering Coordinator at VPLP Design, explained: “We use AI technologies to improve engineering processes in general. We used them to create our dynamic simulator – a central tool that enables us to sail the boats virtually – and they also help us to process the data collected via this simulator to see what parameters influence performance.”
Hugo Kerhascoët, engineer at American Magic, the American challenge competing in the 37th America’s Cup, explained that “the sensors installed on the boats transmit a large amount of multidimensional data that is quite difficult to explore using traditional statistical techniques. AI tools, on the other hand, can quickly highlight interesting information.”
Other guests at the round table were Olivier Douillard, founder of AIM45, which develops and markets a software platform dedicated to ship operations, and Gaëtan Gouerou, co-founder of Sea.Ai, a system that combines optical sensors and artificial intelligence to detect floating objects. “The UFO identification system developed by Sea.Ai analyses more than 70 million images,” says Gouerou. “Around thirty boats (Imoca and Ultim) are equipped with this system.”
AI, a performance driver
On the teams’ side, Paul Fleury, engineer with the Primonial Sailing Team, and Alexis Aveline, technical coordinator & onboard systems development at TR Racing, explained how they are making the most of AI. “We chose to set up a team to respond to the data challenge,” explains Alexis Aveline. It’s a strategic choice, because we believe it’s one of the keys to improving performance. Data analysis is used to adjust the autopilot, detect anomalies on board, manage and monitor structural loads and rigging, as well as making the best use of the boat’s speed and trim.”
AI is also being applied to weather forecasting to improve the quality of analysis and routing. “We are recovering more and more data from boats as well as weather data, in particular because the models are performing better and better, explains Basile Rochut, co-founder, with Christian Dumard, of Marine Weather Intelligence, a start-up specialising in weather analysis and maritime routing. All the AI tools we use enable us to develop multi-dimensional polars incorporating more parameters (boat speed, sea state, swell, gusts of wind, temperatures, etc.), so we can better forecast ship performance, work on innovative routing methods and detect complex meteorological phenomena.”
Energy strategy: towards greater sobriety?
The energy strategy of a racing boat was then discussed: what technologies exist? What are their limits? Jean-Marie Clément, the electronics engineer in charge of energy on the SVR-Lazartigue trimaran, explained: “The Ultim’s energy strategy is based around three different energy production technologies: the internal combustion engine with its generator, which is easy to control, two wind turbines, which quickly produce an interesting output, as these boats have fairly high apparent winds, and photovoltaic panels, whose energy production is more uncertain”. The Mer Concept engineer adds that “consumption is between 12 and 14 amps per hour”.
For his part, New Zealand skipper Conrad Colman described how he had met his challenge of completing the 2016 Vendée Globe on an energy self-sufficient boat. This is a strong trend. “We’re seeing more and more boats completing races without starting their engine,” says Paul-Louis Defretière, an engineer at SKYSAT. So how can we move towards carbon-free autonomy for racing boats? “The answer lies with the skippers, who decide on the rules to be established on this subject,” answers René Boulaire, chief measurer for the Imoca class.
A fast-growing foil market
The final part of the day was devoted to the foil market, with Adrien Marchandise, co-founder of Avel Robotics, and Tanguy Le Bihan, founder of Foil And Co, commenting: “The foil is a vector for innovation, growth and business. Since 2021, the wing foil has exploded to become the majority support on the water today.” In particular, the sport is attracting people who have never practised water sports before. It’s a craze that’s helped by “the ease with which it can be set up, as well as the fact that it’s easy to get into the sport, as you learn to fly fairly quickly”, added Eléonore Juhel, director of the Kerguelen water sports centre in Larmor-Plage.
Finally, within the Imoca class, while some are refining the profile of their foils, others have decided to return to a plan with daggerboards. David Raison came to talk about the Imoca without foils that he designed for Eric Bellion and Jean Le Cam. “It’s a boat that’s cheaper, lighter, more reliable and easier to run,” said the naval architect.