Bone-conduction technology designed to enable soldiers to communicate in battle without covering their ears with headphones is being repurposed to help a UK sailing team competing in the America’s Cup.
The communication device, developed by BAE Systems, will allow members of the Land Rover BAR team to talk to and understand each other in the 2017 race despite the expected noisy conditions at sea.
“On-board communication is something that we have identified as a real performance differentiator,” said Matt Cornwell, a member of the Land Rover BAR team who has been racing in the America’s Cup since 2003.
“We have had to step up our game from the pre-2010 era when a headset was a 'nice to have’ and you could get the job done with some fairly basic kit. Now we are having to get much more sophisticated.”
The prototype headset creates physical vibrations from an audio signal, which travel through facial bones into the inner ear. The inner ear translates the vibrations into nerve impulse signals and sends the information to the brain, allowing the user to hear audible sound.
“The system we have developed is able to deal with the large amount of background noise, which can affect the clarity of the speech being transmitted, and is also rugged enough to operate in the extreme conditions sailors are regularly put through,” said Mohammed Akhmad, principal scientist at BAE Systems.
The problem with regular headsets is that they can easily fill with water due to the extreme conditions in which the teams operate. This results in muffled sound, which makes clear communication between the racing crew and their support staff difficult.
The technology is being showcased at Land RoverBAR’s visitor centre in Portsmouth as part of an interactive exhibit that explains how technology helps teams make the right decisions in the high-pressured race environment.