For teams contesting the highly competitive and demanding Formula One™ championship, no detail is too small. Race cars require precise and calculated craftsmanship—build materials must be strong but lightweight and able to handle the physical stress of racing at 200-miles-per-hour. Advanced hybrid engines must use every drop of fuel efficiently, and on-board sensors must deliver precise and timely data to engineers in order to be competitive.
For the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One Team, data collection is key to its no-detail-too-small approach. The team wanted to improve and speed up the offload of data collected by the sensors and thermal imaging cameras embedded in their 2015 W06 car during practice sessions so the engineers could spend more time fine-tuning the vehicle rather than waiting to receive and read data. In 2014, the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One Team turned to Qualcomm Technologies Inc. (QTI) for a data transmission solution capable of delivering against its specific speed and reliability requirements.
Prior to the collaboration with QTI, MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS relied on multiple plug-in connections to download the massive amount of tire data generated by its on-board thermal cameras while the car was stopped in the garage. The thermal imaging data provided valuable insight into the behavior of the car's tires which, once collected and analyzed by the team’s engineers, provides critical information to find invaluable tenths of a second in lap time from improved tire performance.
With more than a decade of automotive industry experience to draw on, QTI set to work on a novel solution that would allow significant volumes of data to be transmitted over a 5 GHz band Wi-Fi network while the car was in the pit lane or outside the team’s race garage, rather than requiring a stationary offload via cable, which resulted in a loss of valuable practice time on the track.
The first solution QTI provided was based on a single 801.22ac chipset, the QCA6574, and a Snapdragon 805 processor embedded within a single board computer (SBC) design. With this, QTI was able to deliver stationary data transmission that exceeded the requirements of MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS, fitted into a prototype that was tested during the 2014 Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal. Data during the race showed that multiple files could be offloaded from the car—with over 180MB of data transferred in about 26 seconds, leading to an end-to-end exchange of about 88 Mbps.
To provide the very high data-speed connection required for non-stationary transmission—when the car was driving in the pit lane but not stopping—the initial plan was to design and implement eight custom-made chipsets and aggregate the bandwidth (40 MHz from each). After much testing and a number of revisions and redesigns, the team discovered that 80 MHz channels and just four Wi-Fi chips not only simplified the system overall but actually achieved better results. The finished product is a distributed system consisting of small boxes at multiple locations on the car. Additionally, each thermal tire sensor now had its own SBC, resulting in a system that was more flexible, robust, and easier to manage.
Finally, access points were set up in the pit lane and the garage to boost throughput during both stationary and in-motion data transmission. With just a bit of network tweaking to deliver quicker connectivity and immediate data transfer, both aspects of the mission were successfully completed.
With the new system up and running, lag is one small detail MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS team won’t be sweating this season.