In the Sports War for Marginal Gains, Human Data Could be the Key

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Motorsport has always been a proving ground for automotive innovation. Technologies that we first see in championship track vehicles trickle down into the consumer market, eventually bundled with the kind of car you’re likely to get as a 17th birthday gift. So what tech is coming our way now?

In our latest collaboration, with the Goodwood Festival of Speed, Porsche and others, we provide a public glimpse at an innovation for future motorsport and beyond, into wider mobility experiences. For the first time, you can see the emotional journey of professional racers, as they tackle the infamous Goodwood Hillclimb, measured in real time with Sensum technology.

For a bit of background on the project see our earlier story Another World First – Measuring Live Motorsport Emotions with Goodwood Festival of Speed or stay here to have a play with the resulting creations...

Proudly presenting...

  • Emotional map of the Hillclimb track.
  • VR ride-along with Porsche racing drivers.
  • Key data insights from measuring supercar and superbike racer emotions.
  • First public glimpse at Sensum’s new metric for measuring human stress.
  • Short behind-the-scenes video clips from the festival – see the playlist on YouTube.

There are different ways to explore the insights from this challenging project:

Mapping the Emotional Journey

We produced a heat map of the racers’ emotional response to the challenges of the track, by developing a custom algorithm that was designed to work across a wide range of people and vehicles in the high-speed, short-run world of the Hillclimb. The resulting metric is a proxy for stress, ranging from ‘Ice Cool’ to ‘Wild’. It shows how much the driver is tending towards being cool and collected, or wild and excited, from one second to the next.

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A composite of emotion data measurement from supercar and superbike racers on the Goodwood Hillclimb track

You can clearly see the highest ‘wild’ scores in red, which correlate with driver stress, right at the key points of the route. The ‘wildest’ sections were concentrated around the two most challenging corners of the track, including the notorious Flint Wall, and under the gaze of the main audience stand. This is an encouraging finding for the technology behind the project because the wildest emotions occur at the track sections that the racers reported as being the most challenging for them.

Total Immersion with Porsche

As part of the company’s celebrations of its 70th year in production, Porsche invited us to place our tech on two of their official drivers, as they thrashed their high-spec race cars up the Hillclimb track. In a world-first VR experience you can ride shotgun alongside Porsche stars Mark Higgins and Esmee Hawkey, and see data visualisations of their stress-response to each curve and straight.

The full experience for Gear VR is here on the Oculus Store. Or if you don’t have a headset, dive straight into the 360º versions, on mobile or desktop, via our YouTube or VeeR channels.

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Ride the Hillclimb with Mark Higgins in a Porsche GT2 RS

Similarly to our previous VR experience The Hero Feeling, this immersive content is designed to demo how audiences might be able to reach new levels of engagement with the thrill of sports. Imagine how different the experience would be if the current state of the performers' emotions and physiology could be shared with commentators and fans.

Data Interaction

During the Festival of Speed our challenge was to create a new level of connection between the live emotions of the racers outside on the hill, and the visitors inside the Future Lab pavilion – a new flagship feature of the festival. Working in partnership with innovative events and design companies Catapult and A&E, we were able to let public visitors interact with emotional data visualisations via a giant touchscreen in Future Lab, as the racers were being recorded in real-time out on the track.

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Champion racer Anthony Reid takes his BAC Mono up the Hillclimb

Let’s follow the data on a quick drive up the hill…

Before dropping the throttle at the start line, the pressure is already growing. We often see the ‘Driver State’ (our Ice Cool metric) rising towards the ‘wild’ side as the racer gets their mind and body into gear. As Hillclimb veteran Anthony Reid told us, ‘The launch is very important, so you'll probably see my stress levels pretty high just at the starting point. If you drop half a second then it's not time you can gain back further up the hill’.

After the initial burst of acceleration at the start we enter the tricky first double-corner, pushing the vehicle to the edge as we curve right then right again, before we can really open up into the straight. Here we see frequent spikes in the Driver State, as reflected too in the map above.

Halfway down the main straight, powering along in what should be reasonable comfort, we see another emotional spike. This is located right under the footbridge, where most of the crowds are concentrated, and the pressure to perform is heightened. All eyes on our racer now.

Having eased back into the remainder of the straight, we see our final peak of emotions, building towards the most notorious and daunting section: the dreaded Flint Wall. Here our racer must turn their vehicle through a blind corner into the darkness of dense woodland, while remaining just a hair’s breadth from the rough stone wall to get a good line.

Finally clear of the wall, stress levels tend to ease off as we roll out through the woodland to make a final dash at the finish line. Phew!

The data visualisation element was another world first and is designed not only to build an emotional connection between racer and sports fan, but also to inspire a potential new feature of motorsport media. Imagine if you could interact with the live emotional states of your favourite performers during the season and with their training throughout the year – exploring the highs and lows of competing on the world stage.

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Dive into these short videos from behind the scenes at the festival:

Looking to the Future of Data-driven Experiences

Rather than going for a big, consistent data set on which to make scientific claims, for this project we were focused instead on taking our latest stress metric for a trial run, outside the lab, in the wild. Nevertheless the data still alluded to some intriguing insights.

There was a strong correlation between high levels of ‘wild’ responses and low track times. In other words, the fastest racers were also the most excited or stressed, rather than the calmest. This is intriguing. It could suggest that the faster people were performing in a heightened state of alertness, ‘on the edge’ where their performance is optimal.

Also, between the superbike riders and supercar drivers, the bikers tended to be more ‘ice cool’. You've got to hand it to them – both the bikers and drivers were highly experienced, professional performers, but biking is already a physiologically different process. The bikers were probably pushing their bodies harder and exposing themselves to greater risk of injury, possibly requiring a calmer control of their bodies throughout. Furthermore, as veterans of death-defying tracks like the Isle of Man TT, they may have had more experience at scraping past obstacles like stone walls.

See a short highlights reel in the link above, and hear from some of the key players behind-the-scenes here:

So, how does a tech demo like this reflect on the possible future of motor racing or consumer mobility?

At Sensum, we are driven by the belief that the next step for artificial intelligence is to make it more human. If we can imbue smart systems with an understanding of the human state at any moment, they can become more personal, accurate, relevant, useful and enjoyable. On the road to this goal we are collaborating with key partners to develop and test demonstrator technologies.

By measuring motorsports performers and feeding the data insights back to them, their teams and the wider public, we can expect several innovations and benefits, including:

  • Improved performance – As veteran racer Anthony Reid told us at the festival, sport ‘is all about the accumulation of marginal gains to reach that peak performance to win’. Any new data layer has the potential to provide an edge. Having access to both real-time and longitudinal reporting on the performer’s physiology and emotion can add to the already huge stack of data being captured the vehicle, occupants and surroundings. The insights from that data can help the performer and their supporting team to understand what stimuli push or pull them in or out of their optimal state: The Zone.
  • Health & wellbeing – By closing the data feedback loop and helping people achieve a new level of self-knowledge, we can help them optimise their mental and physiological health.
  • Entertainment – Let’s face it, sports fans are data geeks. They chomp down on stats like they were made of chocolate. Every year we see new levels of data insights on our screens. Having a deeper sense of how drivers are feeling could advance the narrative between sport and fan, both live and throughout the whole year beyond the season.
  • Consumer mobility – If you want to satisfy the mainstream, sometimes you have to design for the extremes. At Goodwood we showed the feasibility of real-time emotional analysis in challenging conditions, now we can expect this innovation to feed into the private car market, fleet operators and so on. Stress alone is a major target metric of the mobility industry, hoping to understand and mitigate occupant stress to avoid accidents and improve the experience of getting from A to B.

Beyond the racers, we also measured a jetpack pilot at the festival, as well as a stunt car driver and participants in a VR experience of the Roborace autonomous race car. All these hint at the wide range of sports and experiences that could be enhanced by measuring the state of the humans feeling them.

We envisage a future where the technology we carry through our daily lives understands us deeply, and helps us understand ourselves better than we ever could before. The possibilities are huge. How would you like to see empathic AI deployed into sport and beyond?

Ben Bland

Chief Operations Officer