VENDEE GLOBE INSIGHTS BY OSCAR
The Vendée Globe is the most extreme of all sail boat races because it is around the world singlehanded, non-stop and without outside assistance. Inevitably, because of this, it has a high drop-out rate, usually of around 50%, which is a reminder of how difficult it is to finish, let alone do well. That is the cruel beauty of this exceptional race.
After a particularly difficult start to the race, a descent south down the Atlantic littered with tricky weather conditions, the first steps into the Southern Ocean have reminded us of the incredible difficulties the skippers have to face. A certain number of skippers are helping us with the development of OSCAR. We are using their exceptional voyages to test our systems and refine our database ultimately to improve OSCAR’s performance. Their commitment is incredible and we are very grateful to all of them.
The UFOs, as in every edition, are part of the equation and any encounter with them is feared by all. It is for this reason and to help limit the risk, that 18 of the Vendée Globe boats are equipped with the OSCAR system. Unfortunately limiting does not mean eliminating, OSCAR remains an optical system that looks at the surface of the water and not below it.
The OSCAR system is complementary to AIS and radar. By using thermal and colour cameras combined with artificial intelligence, OSCAR provides the sailors with an additional day and night watch. This active watch covers the environment close to the ship. It provides information on the speed and trajectory of objects detected on the water surface and above and can trigger alarms if such objects are identified as threats. These objects can be made of wood, steel, plastic, organic material… the colours, shapes, materials, surfaces and temperatures are all among its detection criteria.
From the masthead, OSCAR looks as far as the horizon, but detection, in order to be of high quality, is typically limited to 1000m as objects that are too far away remain difficult to identify and do not represent an imminent danger.
The secret to OSCAR is in its ability to identify objects and to determine what is a threat and what is not. To date, OSCAR’s intelligence enables it to recognise a buoy, a sailboat, a motorboat or a large ship. If the object is not recognised, it is classified as an ‘unknown object’. Within a vertical field of vision of at least 50° and up to 120° horizontally any object measuring 1X1m will be identified within 150m of the boat.
Like all optical sensors, OSCAR does not detect underwater objects and its performance also deteriorates in fog and rain.
Optical sensors cannot see through solid objects and anything hiding behind the next big wave may thus be be difficult to detect too, however, OSCAR’s sensor being mounting at the masthead provides a much better angle of view than that of a sailor on deck.
The performance of OSCAR’s artificial intelligence is based on the diversity and size of the database it uses to identify object. Although OSCAR has been fed with millions of images, and it can already identify many common floating objects, there are still some rarer floating hazards that it needs to learn to identify thereby improving its overall performance.
We could not find a more comprehensive test than this winter’s Vendée Globe to put OSCAR to the test. The lessons learned from this race will benefit all sailors.