Feeling the Thrill of the Race Track – a Warm-up for Goodwood

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The Sensum team took our tech into the field to measure the emotions of drivers at Kirkistown race track, in preparation for the prestigious Goodwood Festival of Speed.

Note: for the main article on this project, jump over here: http://bit.ly/FoS18_Sen

With just a few days to go before Sensum goes on display in the Future Lab at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, we could practically smell the exhaust fumes. So it was time for the team to execute some live trials, to test our Goodwood algorithm in the wild.

We took some wearable Equivital biometric sensors down to ‘Ireland’s fastest racing circuit’, Kirkistown, to measure drivers in a realistic track setting. The venue management, led by Richard Young, went out of their way to get us access to a few different drivers and teams during a highly pressured practice day. Huge thanks go out to them.

In preparation for our work at Goodwood, this exercise focused on deriving emotional responses from heart rate and breathing rate. The most striking feature was the difference in physiological response between two very different types of driver: the youth and the veteran. While most of the people we measured were 16 and 17 year-old boys in training for racing careers, we got to compare their data against Peter, an old hand, who now drives only as a hobby – just for the craic, if you will.

Although the older participant was driving his new car for the first time, he probably wasn’t experiencing quite the same level of pressure as the race teams. His heart rate and breathing rate seemed to reflect this lower-pressure situation, or perhaps was a result of his hard-won years of experience – because in Peter’s biometric signals there was only a small jump in activity between his resting and racing periods.

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Peter trying out his new championship-winning touring car for the first time

It was a different story for the young pups. Their biometrics showed big shifts when they were out on the track, not just in terms of increased heart and breathing rates, but also in the amount of variability within heart rate. Heart rate variability (HRV) is a particularly good indicator of arousal. This clearly matched with the feedback they gave us about their emotions on the day: excited, on edge, pushing themselves to perform for their teams, their managers and their families.

We wouldn’t try to draw conclusions from the data collected, that was never the objective. There were too many variables, such as vehicle class, and the sample sizes were small. The point for us was to give our tech a road-test and validate the new custom algorithm we will be unveiling at Goodwood on 12 July. Nevertheless, it was still interesting to see such a noticeable difference between the two types of driver.

After a day on the track, in exceptionally good weather, we were left feeling more confident about the story that the data will tell when the rubber really hits the road, on the hallowed grounds of Goodwood and its infamous Hillclimb.

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The young guns get ready before they race and review their biometric data afterwards.

Ben Bland

Chief Operations Officer