Life-Saving from Race-Winning IoT Technology

What does Formula 1 racing and a children's hospital have in common?The answer, set out in a recent UK Parliamentary seminar, is the use of Internet of Things technology to protect lives of both racing car drivers and dangerously ill children.At...

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What does Formula 1 racing and a children's hospital have in common?

The answer, set out in a recent UK Parliamentary seminar, is the use of Internet of Things technology to protect lives of both racing car drivers and dangerously ill children.

At the seminar, organised by the Digital Policy Alliance, Peter van Manen, Managing Director of McLaren Electronic Systems outlined how the complex sensor and actuator technology deployed in Grand Prix races is being used to monitor critically ill children in Birmingham's Children's Hospital.

As well as providing Parliamentarians with a metaphor for the Internet of Things that they could get their head round, this example also illustrates the scope, range and adaptability that ot offers across all sectors.

A New Internet of Things Every Two Weeks
Van Manen says that for each race his team has to set up a new “Internet of Things”. Each racing car has 120 sensors which in the course of a two-hour race produces 1.5 Gbytes of real time data measuring the primary health and performance of the car.  

“We grab information and turn it into stories and use them to make decisions on how we race,” he said. The information is also used to try to shave two to three tenths of a second off a lap every two weeks.

Of the sensors,  25 sensors are in the power control and the rest are used by the engineers to optimise the performance. “We are industrialising the Internet” he said. Explaining that he is not just reading the controls but gathering data from the edge of the network, processing it and turning it into intelligence. “The more we measure the more we understand”.

Van Manen did add that privacy issues are not as important in Formula 1 as in the broader environment.

Big Inferences from Small Amounts of Data too
But that said, the big challenge in a race is not only to understand the McLaren car 's performance but also that of competitor's cars but from much sparser information. However,  van Manen says that “the lesson from IoT is that there is a lot you can infer from small amounts of data”.

F1 IoT Technology Applied in Birmingham Children's Hospital
McLaren's continuously race-tested real-time robust Internet of Things technology also underpins a real-time monitoring system for critically ill children in Birmingham Children's Hospital.

The split second sensing, assessing, reporting and actuating is vital in this environment where  where rapid identification of changes in a child's condition can be a matter of life or death.

A personal initiative by van Manen, the F1 data platform was installed on the hospital network in 2011 and is used for children in intensive care to look closely at the data feeds for changing patterns.

”We see very early when conditions start to change,” he said. “With children, as in Formula 1 there is a very short window of opportunity to give them the attention they need  as with children things happen very fast.”

Politicians need simple stories
It's this sort of mix of interlocking elements - competitive success, preservation of life, global cross-sector applicability, curing children, winning races - that makes this case study so attractive  and potent for getting the message about the Internet of Things across to hard-pressed politicians and their advisors.  In the UK they have short time horizons, short attention spans, and an impatience with technology (very few have a science degree), which is not a route to political advancement.

So the relevance of the Internet of Things has to be presented to them in ways that they can relate to their personal circumstances or to those of their constituents.


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