Live Graphics Transforms America’s Cup, Earns Five Emmy Nominations

by Greg Estes

Competitive sailing is a complex sport. Races take place amid lashing winds and churning waves. More challenging still, lead changes between teams are invisible to the naked eye.

Yet the 34th America’s Cup was a gripping spectacle for millions of television viewers – thanks to a new kind of real-time visualization technology.

The 35th America's Cup, held in San Francisco, was a showcase for how visual technology can transform sports.
The 35th America’s Cup, held in San Francisco, showcased how visual technology can transform sports.

That technology, AC LiveLine, has just earned five Emmy Award nominations. The nominations follow an Emmy Award for Outstanding Technical Achievement for AC LiveLine in 2012.

Credit a team led by sailing legend Stan Honey, director of technology for the America’s Cup Event Authority. To bring his vision for a new level of television viewer experience to life, Stan reassembled members of the Emmy award-winning team he worked with in the mid ‘90s to develop breakthrough on-air graphics technologies such as FoxTrax. Among them, Ken Milnes, Alan Trimble, and Tim Heidmann.

The first on air graphics of its kind, FoxTrax was a specialized hockey puck first used in the 1996 NHL All-Star Game. The team equipped the puck and stadium with electronics that tracked and highlighted the puck for viewers when it was in play.

This year, Stan and the AC LiveLine team have once again been nominated in the category of Outstanding Technical Achievement. This time for a new feature called WingWash. WingWash uses NVIDIA Quadro GPUs to show viewers the invisible effect of disturbed air that one boat has on those in its wake. The first-of-its-kind visualization added a new dimension of clarity to a complex sport as this air disturbance plays an important role in the speed of the boats and therefore the race outcome.

Viewers could understand what officials and competitors were doing. “NVIDIA technology was key to the process,” said Tim Heidmann. “Quadro GPUs give us both the performance and dependability we need for broadcast graphics.”

Stan Honey predicts broadcasters will use this kind of technology for a wide variety of events. Broadcasters can now show unprecedented amounts of real-time visual data to fans, he said. The result: we’re at a new stage for graphics technology in sports broadcasts.

The 35th Sports Emmy Awards will take place on May 6th in New York.