The first public trial of jet-and-rocket-powered supersonic car Bloodhound is now just over three weeks away.
As previously reported in diginomica, Richard Noble’s project to build a vehicle designed to reach 1,000 miles per hour, while simultaneously feeding engineering data in real time to STEM-inclined school kids, has been more than ten years in the making.
And on 26 October, in Newquay, Cornwall, the engineering and technology expertise behind Bloodhound will be put to the test, out in the public eye.
At Oracle OpenWorld 2017, diginomica had the chance to attend a session given by Richard Noble and his engineering director Mark Chapman, to learn more about that technology and the data insights it aims to provide.
Bloodhound bristles with sensors
Bloodhound, by Chapman’s description, is:
... part jet fighter, part racecar, part spaceship.
It is also highly instrumented, bristling with sensors that, between them, generate some 550 different data channels relating to the vehicle’s performance. This is stored in the Oracle Cloud, so the whole Bloodhound team can see it straight away, and have a secure source of data, but can also share it with the world. Chapman told OOW17 attendees:
Whether you’re an engineer on our team or a schoolkid keen to learn more about engineering, you can see the driver’s heart rate, you can see the acceleration rate, you can see G-force. You might want to know: what’s the outside wind factor like? What’s the thrust out of the engine? All that data’s there to see. And you can go further, too. There’ll be accelerometers on the fin — so you might want to know, is the fin fluttering? There are strain gauges, there are thermocouples — so the whole spectrum of data is out there for everyone.
The potential for data exploration is tremendous, according to different interests and individual points of curiousity, he added.
Schoolkids like my daughter might want to know, when [Bloodhound driver] Andy presses the loud pedal of the rocket, does his heart rate go up? Engineering friends might want to know, when Bloodhound goes over a slight bump, what was the vertical G-force, what was the strain on the wishbones? The answers are all in the data. It’s just a matter of asking the questions in the first place.
This data is also vital in terms of fine-tuning Bloodhound, in pursuit of its ultimate land-speed record goal. Said Chapman:
The opportunity we have here is to share this adventure as we go along - but what we can also do is use [Oracle’s] analytics and machine learning capabilities to make predictions, to look for faults before they happen, to use intelligence as we go forward in developing the vehicle. Right now, we’ve got an 800 mph car. Over the next two years, we need to develop that to become a 1,000 mph car.
That 200mph difference might not sound very much - but in engineering terms, bridging the gap is a huge challenge. The forces created by Bloodhound are colossal, says Chapman. To go twice as quick, the team needs to quadruple power. The drag created in that way can only be overcome by providing even more power. It’s hard, exacting work, requiring imagination and razor-sharp problem-solving skills.
But this challenge also makes Bloodhound the most exciting project that Chapman says he could ever imagine as an engineer - and the data generated by the car on every run is extremely rich and extremely valuable, because Bloodhound is entirely unique.
Oracle in passenger seat
In order to collect data from Bloodhound, Oracle has installed a piece of hardware on the car itself - but as John Abel, head of technology and cloud at Oracle UK & Ireland, described it, this isn’t specialist tech at all. It’s the sort of kit that any student could purchase at an electronics shop such as Maplins or Best Buy, he says, and no component cost more than $500.
This car throws out a lot of data. In a single 55-second run at 1,000 mph, we’re going to get around 2,500 transactions per second, which equates to somewhere between 100MB and 200MB of data, including video and relational data.
But from there, the tech starts to look a lot more high-end, Abel said. The data is stored on Oracle cloud infrastructure in the company’s newest European data centre. It requires a high-performance computing (HPC) environment, naturally, because of the complex nature of some of the analysis work involved: computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modelling, for example.
Also at OOW17, Oracle president of product development Thomas Kurian announced that Oracle Academy is to join forces with Bloodhound SSC Education, a non-profit established by the Bloodhound Project, connecting Oracle Academy’s computer science curriculum with Bloodhound’s data. Two projects will be made available to Oracle Academy students. In one, students will be challenged to create an animated virtual version of the Bloodhound team’s desert camp in South Africa. In the other, they will learn how to adjust engineering variables of the car’s design and test the impact of those changes on speed.
Regarding Oracle’s role in the Bloodhound Project, Richard Noble told Oracle OpenWorld attendees:
We’re very proud of the association with Oracle, it’s an amazing situation that was signed off by Thomas Kurian [Oracle’s president of product development] and it’s a terrific thing that Oracle’s doing for us, in our mission of stretching the possible.