Data driven decision making

The importance of mission critical data to support strategic decision making in a matter of seconds

In the first of a series of features that chronicle the unique nature of the NTT Communications McLaren Technology partnership, we take a look at how the race team uses NTT Communications to manage huge amounts of data travelling across thousands of miles to manage and improve performance.

We caught up with Randeep Singh, McLaren Racing's Head of Strategy during the 2018 Barcelona Grand Prix to discuss how he uses data over a race weekend to build the optimum race strategy. In Formula 1, problems hurtle towards you at almost 200mph. That means that solutions need to be found even more quickly.

And that means you need systems in place that are rock-solid and inherently fast.

Whether at the racetrack or at headquarters, NTT Communications infrastructure underpins every racing decision McLaren makes during a Formula 1 weekend, seamlessly connecting the operational hub at the race circuit with Mission Control, the strategic powerhouse within the McLaren Technology Centre (MTC) in Woking.

McLaren's Mission Control houses 32 engineers who are connected directly to the race team at the circuit. These engineers make 90% of the strategic decisions during a race. This team receives telemetry data in real time; in Mission Control engineers see what's happening on the track 10 seconds before it appears on the broadcast feed.

"On a typical weekend we generate around 150GB of data at the circuit," says Singh. "Most of that data - 100GB or more - is generated during the racing sessions themselves, and primarily it's information flowing from the sensors on the cars. That's five sessions per weekend, and two cars running, producing around 10GB per session per car."

"To give an idea, there are hundreds of sensors on the car - more than 200 on the battery alone - and each sensor can measure multiple parameters. So there are many more engineering values we have to monitor than there are sensors on the car, and you can't just add people to the task of processing this data because that would then complicate and delay communications and decision-making.

"Not only are we transferring data real time from the circuit to MTC, there's also up to 50GB of data generated at MTC which has to be transferred to the circuit - such as simulator data."

"By making sure the data arrives in real time, engineers can start visualising, interrogating and using the data immediately. That's possible through having a really robust link. We don't wait for files to download; we don't wait until the end of a lap to see what's happening. We need to make the right decisions as quickly as possible"

"If, say, the safety car is deployed, you might have less than two seconds to decide if you're pitting your car and, if so, what tyres you're putting on from what's available; or if you're staying out. The two cars are usually close together so it's not unreasonable to say that you've got four seconds in total to make that decision for both cars."

"Given the number of data feeds, the number of possible simulation scenarios or race permutations is 1080, which is too big to deal with so we're beginning to delve into the realm of machine learning to create algorithms that will help with this process."

The sheer volume of data presents its challenges, such as ensuring its delivered as promptly as possible, in order to make important strategic decisions. We have transfer data as fast as possible from 21 worldwide locations as far removed from McLaren's UK factory as Melbourne, Australia and Austin, US. Prioritising the time-sensitive, mission-critical information enables immediate action that has race-defining outcomes. NTT Communications software-defined wide-area network, (SD-WAN) technology provides this quick, reliable data flow as well as giving McLaren flexible control over traffic priorities."

"During peak periods we might be generating data at a higher rate than our transfer speed" Randeep explains, "so we have to prioritise and the NTT Communications solution allows us to do this. Car data is obviously at the top of the hierarchy, as is the intercom traffic because there are important conversations happening between the circuit and Mission Control."

"We also transfer video links from the circuit to MTC and from MTC to the circuit. Generally, that falls into a lower priority band, as well as less time-critical data, such as simulator and non-critical strategy data.

"NTT Communications SD-WAN enables us to prioritise performance, reliability and safety-critical information during peak loadings and dynamically transfer lower-priority data when capacity allows. It's the immediacy of the process, and the richness of the data it feeds to our strategic visualisation tools, that empowers our engineers to make fast decisions that can change the outcome of races."

For big decisions such as these, you need the most accurate, relevant, clear information possible - immediately.

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