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Technology joins yacht racing crew

BMW Oracle Racing Team will use cutting-edge tech to try to reclaim the America's Cup for the United States. Photos: Oracle gets ready to race

SAN FRANCSICO--Wireless data feeds, digital sunglasses and carbon-fiber sails are just a few of the technology touches the BMW Oracle Racing Team will use to try to reclaim the America's Cup for the United States next year.

But everything else is a secret.

Golden Gate Yacht Club

Here at the Golden Gate Yacht Club on Wednesday, BMW previewed the technology it transferred into the design and making of the 27-ton racing boat, which is sponsored by the automaker and software giant Oracle, among others. Much of the actual details of the boat configuration and technology, however, were kept "under the skirt" for competitive reasons, said Raymond Freymann, director of BMW's research and technology group.

"As engineers, this is a challenge," said Freymann, a resident of Munich, Germany. "Here we get to go to the limit because it's racing, unlike on the road."

BMW's goal was to create a boat with maximum stiffness--or strength against dynamic forces--and minimum weight, Freymann said. Using internally developed computer design simulations, BMW built the keel and the bulb of the boat with a mixture of carbon fibers, honeycomb aluminum, Mylar and steel. He said this year, the team has made great improvements with its intended goals.

"We're not allowed to quantify, but we've made the lightest and strongest boat," he said almost gleefully with a thick German accent.

This is the second time BMW and Oracle have teamed up for the America's Cup, which is the world's pre-eminent sailboat race. Their boat, which cost anywhere from $20 million to $30 million plus and is the only U.S. representative in next year's race, comprises custom-made materials designed by BMW, along with hardware and software from Oracle.

BMW Oracle Racing, then known as Oracle BMW, lost in the 31st America's Cup to the Swiss team Alinghi, which is among the top four of the 12 teams competing this year. Others include New Zealand's Emirates and Italy's Luna Rossa.

Oracle Chief Larry Ellison, an avid sailor and owner of a X yacht called the Sayonara, is expected to skipper the boat briefly during the competition.

The Louis Vuitton Cup and related semifinalist races, which qualify racers for the America's Cup, are taking place now through June 12, 2007, in Valencia, Spain. The 32nd America's Cup will also take place in Valencia, from June 23 to July 7, 2007.

The digital sunglasses are just one technology BMW contributed to the Racing Team. Developed internally at BMW, the glasses include lenses that can display crucial data, such as wind speed, similar to data that competitors typically obtain from a computerized on-board panel. Because sailors sometimes have difficulty seeing the on-board display in intense sunlight, the sunglasses offer an alternative by showing the data in the lens. Wearers of the glasses can flip a switch from a gadget on their hip to stream various information wirelessly, Freymann said.

BMW originally designed the glasses for Formula One racers who often have difficulty hearing transmitted information over the roar of cars speeding around a track. But Formula One banned use of the technology, Freymann said. He said the technology transfers well to sailing.

However, when asked later, Freymann would say only that the digital sunglasses "might be worn."