Garmin is once again asking for a place on your car's dashboard. But rather than delivering turn-by-turn navigation instructions, the new Garmin Catalyst is a racing performance optimizer that promises to not just analyze your lap times, but also to help make you a faster driver with AI-driven coaching.
From its heavy-duty suction cup windshield mount, the Catalyst looks a lot like a modern version of Garmin's legendary Nuvi navigator. The small, tablet-shaped device, which officially debuts Thursday, draws energy from the car's 12-volt power outlet and can be removed from its mount via a magnetic quick release. (A screw-in mount is also included in the box for more serious racing applications.)
The Catalyst also comes with Garmin's Remote Cam accessory. Mounted high on the windshield, this HD camera connects to the device and captures forward-facing 1080p video of each lap.
Plug everything in and head to the track and the Catalyst will use its built-in accelerometers, image processing and 10-Hz multi-GNSS positioning to automatically capture speed, lap and segment timing along with braking and acceleration data and more. This information is matched in real time with the captured video and presented to the driver at the end of each session. From the pits, you can play back your session with the data overlaid, compare your performance with other sessions and even skip to specific laps or segments at the touch of a button.
The Catalyst is preloaded with a global track database of road courses around the world, but if your local track isn't on that list, it can also auto-generate course maps. Just drive a few laps, drag the starting line where it needs to be and give your course a name. It's designed for closed-course circuit racing and it should go without saying that this isn't meant for use on public roads. However, that limitation also rules out its use in sanctioned point-to-point races -- such as hill climbs or rallys -- for now.
True Optimal Lap
Armed with this data, it's time for Catalyst's coolest party trick: Using AI technology, the device will analyze every segment of every lap and then build a theoretical perfect lap based on your performance. The device will even stitch together a near-seamless video of that perfect lap for you to compare to your actual laps. This is what Garmin calls a True Optimal Lap.
"The True Optimal Lap feature on Catalyst is truly a game changer," Adam Spence, product manager and Garmin Pit Crew team lead, told me. "Until now, the industry standard for theoretical fastest lap has been to split each lap into a number of sectors. Then take the fastest time from each sector and add it up to generate the user's theoretical fastest lap. The problem is, based on the laws of physics, the suggested lap time can be unachievable. Catalyst is different. It gathers several data metrics and identifies where laps can be seamlessly joined together to create the fastest racing line. This shows users their fastest achievable time based on lines actually driven and gives them an optimal lap they can truly achieve."
So the Catalyst isn't just stitching together your fastest sections, it's using your performance to guess what you and your car are actually capable of. Garmin tells me that in some cases, this may mean sacrificing speed on one turn to better position your car for the next one.
With each session, the Catalyst learns a little bit more about your abilities and your car's capabilities -- all without any direct connection to the vehicle's sensors -- further refining your True Optimal Lap. And as you improve (or your car improves with modifications), you'll see the perfect lap change over time, either right there on the Catalyst's screen or on a mobile device or web browser after a Wi-Fi sync with Garmin Connect.
This learning tool doesn't come cheap, however. The Garmin Catalyst driving performance optimizer is on sale now, and costs $1,000 on Garmin.com and other motorsports and online retailers.