Atlas Design

In this (rather lengthy) post we share our thoughts on the design and development of the Atlas and highlight key features that set it apart. Over the coming months we’ll discuss many of these topics in more detail.

We began the design process by talking to sailors in a wide variety of classes, from foiling dinghies to ocean racers, and studying existing instruments. We evaluated instrumentation systems used in the Americas Cup and by the weekend sailor. At the top end of the sport instrumentation packages provide tremendous value both in training and while racing. They work well when there is a dedicated team to calibrate and maintain them. These ultra expensive packages offer advanced features like time-to-line, shift tracking, and distance-to-layline that let sailors make the best decisions on the race course.

Our goal for the Atlas is to deliver the best instrument on the water, not just an incremental improvement on existing systems.

Our own experience with consumer sailing instruments has been quite different; especially when racing on smaller boats. Existing products offer limited features and are plagued by design flaws. Slow update rates and the pervasive use of GPS-averaging make them so unresponsive to changes in sail trim or wind speed that they are frequently ignored. These inaccuracies compound in their distance-to-line estimates and seriously limit their value at the start line. Many devices fail to meet even basic requirements such as being able to read the display with sunglasses or use the device with gloves.

There is great potential in quality instrumentation and clear problems with existing systems. Our goal for the Atlas is to deliver the best instrument on the water, not just an incremental improvement on existing systems. To achieve that goal, we have focused the design of the Atlas around some key guiding objectives:

  • High accuracy, responsive measurements of position, speed, heading, and motion
    To be useful an instrument must be accurate and responsive. We selected the latest and highest performance sensors on the market integrating all essential measures of boat performance in a single device. The days of buying one device to measure speed and another for heading are over.
     
  • Real-time data display, with no latency or noise
    Every sensor has some signal noise. Reducing noise has traditionally been accomplished by averaging together multiple readings over time.  This averaging is easy to implement but introduces delay in the measurement; unacceptable in our view. To solve the problem we turned to a sophisticated sensor fusion algorithm originally developed to send astronauts to the moon. In brief, the algorithm allows us to fuse data from multiple sensors together reducing noise without introducing latency. (Keep an eye out for a future blog post on the topic).
     
  • A graphic display with excellent readability in all lighting conditions
    Most existing sailing instruments use fixed-character displays that place a serious limit on the information they can display. We stopped buying computers and cell phones with fixed-character displays decades ago, and with the introduction of the Atlas we can finally do the same with sailing instruments. The Atlas features a high contrast fully sunlight-readable graphic display, and is optimized to ensure that it is the most readable device on the water. The reflective screen technology in the Atlas means that the display is never washed out by bright sunlight and is fully compatible with polarized sunglasses. At night, a low-power red backlight automatically turns on and adjusts its brightness to preserve a clear view and your night vision.
     
  • Wireless connectivity for sensors
    The sensors in the Atlas provide an incredible amount of information on boat performance, but they can’t tell the entire story alone. Other important factors, like wind velocity and speed through water, aren’t feasible for a mast-mounted display to measure and thus require dedicated sensors. The wireless connectivity built into the Atlas allows it to support external sensors that can be installed on any boat without running wires, cutting holes, or adding heavy batteries. We’re developing a line of advanced sensors just as game-changing as the Atlas. Stay tuned!
     
  • High-fidelity data capture to support off-the-water analytics
    As sailors, we are always looking to improve our performance on the water, but are frequently left with questions that prove difficult to answer without reliable data:
        -What mode is fastest in these conditions?
        -What is the cost (in terms of boat lengths) of a tack or gybe?
        -Did we choose the right sail configuration and settings?
    With the Atlas and upcoming Vakaros Analytics platform, we can finally stop guessing and start answering these questions with confidence. The Atlas continuously collects performance data which can be uploaded using the Vakaros app. The online analytics platform has advanced features like automatic tack and gybe recognition, so it is a breeze to compare performance and track improvement. We’ll be sharing a lot more about the analytics platform in the coming months.
     
  • Easy to customize and easy to update with new features
    With an instrument as powerful and flexible as the Atlas, we want sailors to be able to easily customize it to match their boat and sailing style. It’s also important to be able to update the Atlas with new features as they are developed. The Vakaros app makes this easy. Thanks to wireless connectivity, the Atlas can quickly be updated to the latest software version while performance data is seamlessly uploaded to the analytics platform. The app also makes customization easy. Screens can be configured with a wide selection of widgets, and new boat profiles can be created.
     
  • Compact, rugged design
    We want the Atlas to be at home on any boat, from foiling dinghies to 40 footers, and to survive no matter what the conditions. We minimized the size of the device while maintaining a large screen for a clear view. The integrated battery can power the Atlas for days on a single charge; eliminating the requirement for on-board power. The body is machined out of a single piece of aerospace grade aluminum alloy, and the screen is protected by 1mm thick Gorilla Glass; twice what is typically found in consumer electronics. The spring-loaded aluminum mount is easy to use and incredibly secure. The Atlas is ready for wipeouts, waves across the deck, and pretty much anything else you can throw at it.

 

We’ve put thought into every design decision we made for the Atlas as both sailors and engineers. We can’t wait to put one in your hands, and in the meantime we’d love to hear what you think!

 

Jake Keilman