Stuff we’d love to see: HUDs in racing


Heads-up displays (HUDs) are so Top Gun they should come with a cheesy 80s soundtrack, pulsating in day-glo neon colours and with “Maverick” stencilled on the side. But they’re no longer the preserve of fighter pilots alone. Could HUDs make it to Formula E racing?

The technology is certainly there to make it happen. Reevu aims to bring a HUD-enabled motorbike helmet to market within the next two years (pictured above). There are already HUD systems available to for use inside snowboard and ski goggles. Defence engineering firm BAE is at work on the next generation of intelligent helmet, which stitches together multiple camera angles into a wide panoramic view, boosting soldiers’ peripheral vision, especially when using light enhancing tech at night. And many road cars now come with simple HUDs, which beam information onto the windscreen to reduce the time taken by a driver to look down at the dashboard.

On the other side of the pond, the Rockwell-Elbit helmet being developed for use in the advanced F35 fighter jet will use cameras situated all over the aircraft body to enable the pilot to literally look through the aeroplane, offering a truly seamless, uninterrupted view: X-ray vision, meet US Air Force.

There have been just a few teething problems in the development of the F35 system – such as pilots being so disorientated by the time lag that they’ve been unable to continue flying. And there’s the cost of this wonderful stuff to consider. The F35 helmets reportedly come with a $500,000 price tag attached. That’s per item. This Vanity Fair article carries a rather bruising description of the helmet: “a total fuckup from start to finish”.

Open cockpit cars don’t have the luxury of those sweeping glass windscreens, of course, and the latency and cost issues could rule the top-end tech out of motorsports. However, HUD technology has already been tried in Formula 1 in years gone by (albeit without lasting impression). Using HUDs in open cockpit racing could throw up a host of advantages. In F1 in particular, so much data is available to the team rather than the driver that often it seems the team is calling the shots, rather than the guy or girl in the hot seat.

In contrast, HUDs could give the Formula E driver quick access to an abundance of cyclable, visual information, such as real time track position charts, who’s pitted and when, battery management information, external camera views – or even a Twitter feed.

It could be the future of racing. And we’d love to see it. Would you?

Hong Kong circuit uncovered – and it has a tunnel

HK circuit map courtesy South China Morning Post

A map of the proposed Hong Kong Formula E circuit has been revealed by the South China Morning Post newspaper. The article explains that recent debate over the track hinges not just on disruption to government facilities but also on a section of track that is causing safety concerns with the FIA.

“Everything is sorted, except for one small, 10-metre stretch which goes under a tunnel and which the FIA has raised concerns about due to safety issues,” said Alejandro Agag.

Agag said he was 90 per cent confident the green light would be given by the International Automobile Federation (FIA), whose technical committee will return next month to look at the revamped route proposal along the waterfront.

Barrelling along at speeds of more than 200km/h, cars entering the tunnel would be in danger if they didn’t slow down and organisers are now considering building a small chicane – a sharp double bend- at one end of the tunnel.

Agag said the circuit would measure about 2.4km, would have stands for 40,000 spectators and would comprise around 35 laps over an hour.

Cheaper and lighter electric power

A US company is showing off what it calls a new form of electric propulsion, says The New York Times. The innovative system is low voltage and significantly reduces the number of batteries – and therefore cost and weight – that an electric vehicle must carry.

Ray Caamano, chief scientific officer at Texas-based KLD Energy Technologies, said the use of amorphous metals, which have unique microstructures, makes for a power-dense, low-cost compact motor and a smaller array of lithium batteries. He explained that neodymium iron-boron permanent magnets that are cheaply made and easily configured provide another cost advantage. These materials overcome the limitations of conventional, easily demagnetized metals and heavy copper windings that retain heat.

“The possibility of these various materials in combination allows for a very high efficiency at high frequency,” Caamano said. “This is a breakthrough in the magnetic world.”

Operating at a lower voltage than other electric and hybrid vehicles provides advantages beyond improved efficiency, he said, citing enhanced safety and extended battery life.

Why the Iron Lady could have been a racing driver

Digging into the Top Gear archives, you might stumble on a particularly peculiar piece, given its home. It’s one claiming that, actually, women might make rather good racing drivers and especially notable as it was penned by none other than Jeremy Clarkson, who delights in practicing, as far as he is able, political incorrectness of the highest form. It’s worth a read, and then reframing the question thus: could women make successful Formula E racing drivers? And if so – who?

There are men who drive like they have Tourette’s of the epilepsy and women who drive like Gods. And vice versa. So again, I ask the question: “Why is Formula One more male than the lavatories at a Turkish steam room?”

We know that there are women who can drive. We know too that many are interested in cars. And that millions watch Formula One motor racing, not simply because they quite fancy Mark Webber. Do the cars require a physical strength that (most) women simply don’t have?

I very much doubt it. Let’s be honest shall we, it’s not a rugby scrum in there is it? Yes it can be a bit hot and you need to have big neck muscles to cope with the cornering, but in essence you sit down, and turn the steering wheel which is power-assisted. How hard can it be?

Perhaps the problem then is that women don’t have the hunter killer instinct that makes them want to pass the guy in front more desperately than they want their next breath. But do the guys? Well, judging by the pitiful overtaking display put on every other weekend, I’d suggest they have about as much desire to win as your average koala.

Whereas we only need look at Baroness Thatcher to know what women can be like when they want to get in front. Maybe that’s the answer. The Maggon. She’s small. She’s got the killer instinct. She could be just what the sport needs.

Hong Kong circuit saga yields specification clues

The proposed route for the Hong Kong Formula E street circuit has been binned, according to the South China Morning Post newspaper. The report reveals that the electric racing cars would have passed by an important government complex, causing access problems despite the event taking place on a weekend.

But the news piece also reveals some of the common circuit requirements, including: the road upon which the track runs must be 10m wide; no more than 10% of the route may be less than the stipulated width; no section may be less than 7m wide; and, in Hong Kong, the total length was 2.6km.

A revised, shorter circuit has been drawn up and is expected to be approved both by Hong Kong stakeholders and the FIA next month. Hong Kong is due to be the third stage of the 2014-15 Formula E first season.

“The FIA technical committee said our route was perhaps the best among the 10 cities in the inaugural season of the series, but we couldn’t reach an agreement with all parties, including the government, as there were some concerns raised especially about one section near the government offices in Tamar,” said Lawrence Yu Kam-kee, president of the Automobile Association which is in charge of organising the Hong Kong leg.

Electric power tops Pikes Peak

Toyota’s TMG EV P002 courtesy Chip Kalback first featured in Popular Science Oct 13

Writing in the October issue of the journal Popular Science, Ezra Dyer paints an evocative picture of how the unlimited innovation of electric racing cars is taking them from also-rans to challenging for top spots at Pikes Peak. The hill climb event in Colorado, US, includes 156 turns over 12.42 miles and climbs 14,100 feet (4300m) – and it is being increasingly dominated by battery-powered machines. Read the full article at

The vehicles engineered to conquer races have historically been the fastest, most powerful, most advanced cars on any road. For decades, racecars served as laboratories where new technology would succeed or fail, and successes often filtered down to production models. But to maintain the suspense of a close competition, modern races, from the circle tracks of the South to the Formula One circuit in Shanghai, now enforce strict rules. And so rather than innovate, engineers have become preoccupied with exploiting tiny loopholes.

At the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, the speed lab is alive and well, and the most rapid developments are happening in the electric class. Advances in power management, torque vectoring and high-speed charging are tested on the mountain and improved upon each year.

Until a few years ago, the electric class was little more than a novelty; Joe Ball’s Sears electric car took more than half an hour to reach the summit in 1981. But now electrics are legitimate threats to the racecars in the unlimited class, which has no restrictions other than safety. In 2012, Toyota’s electric car clocked the fastest overall time on the top section of the mountain, reflecting its twin motors’ advantage at high altitude, where the internal-combustion cars lose about 30% of their power to the thin air. Most agree that it’s only a matter of time before Pikes Peak is ruled by electricity rather than gasoline.

This year, Mitsubishi fielded two 536hp, all-wheel-drive MiEV Evolution II cars. Stunt driver and professional racer Greg Tracy piloted one of them to qualifying times that extrapolated to a top-three finish – not just in the electric class, but overall. “The electric power made me feel more at one with the car,” says Tracy. “With a gas car, you’re always shifting gears and thinking about the power band. With this, it’s just linear power, like a rollercoaster accelerating. Once you remove those extra stimuli, it allows you to concentrate on getting through that corner as fast as you can. And the ability to have as much power on the last turn as you do on the first is mind-boggling.”

The MiEV’s other advantages include instant four-wheel torque vectoring and regenerative braking – which,  in race conditions, means that the electric motors can act as a second set of brakes to help keep the conventional pads and rotors from overheating. “I had to adjust to the car’s capabilities,” Tracy says. “Every practice run, I got faster.”

If this is a taste of the electric future, then it is bright indeed.

Image: Chip Kalback, as featured in Popular Science Oct 2013

Yin meets Yang: Vettel and Prost

Formula E has proved itself adept at hitting the headlines. This week, four times F1 champion Alain Prost announced he will be entering a team into the new sport next year. Today, soon to be four times F1 champion Sebastian Vettel rubbished the concept, saying that he doesn’t see it as the future. Every Yin needs a Yang, after all.

Without being there, it’s hard to understand the nuances of a media quote and to correctly interpret any comments printed. Context is all. The remarks by Vettel seem to be centred on F1, not on Formula E; he talks about keeping the noise and the vibration in his own sport, a big talking point with the introduction of new engines next season.

Without knowing the phrasing of the question he was responding to, it’s impossible to gauge whether he really feels Formula E as a standalone series is a bad idea, or whether the message is that he doesn’t want F1 to be influenced by Formula E.

However, the usually diplomatic German driver stated bluntly: “I don’t like it at all.” It’s a viewpoint that might be honest but one that might not go down too well with his team’s engine supplier Renault, which as well as powering him every one of his titles is heavily involved with developing the Formula E spec car.

That the debate is taking place so publicly and in a place with an exploding car culture is only good news for Formula E. More prime time coverage, more column inches, more clicks – and all still a year away from getting to the grid.

For all the drawbacks that the series may be developing, the sport’s commitment to developing technologies relevant to road cars and to boosting the sales of electric vehicles – a short term strategy for cleaning up horrendous inner-city air pollution – remains far more laudable than any equivalent aims at Formula 1 which, if they still exist, seem to have been swallowed in the vast vats of cash and ferocious politics.

Of course, Vettel can’t claim to love all of the noise in F1. We’d imagine he’d happily swap a few decibels of engine combustion for fewer podium pantomime boos.