I/O at 200 miles per hour

April 02, 2020 // By Stephen Hayes
It’s not controversial to suppose that Formula One (F1) is a sport of extremes. The drivers are the best, the cars are the fastest and the races the most intense. Another aspect that pushes boundaries is the data collection, handling and manipulation infrastructure that enables car condition monitoring, race timing and much more.

F1 cars regularly race at truly dizzying speeds, often reaching 200 miles per hour (320 kilometres per hour) on fast tracks like the Italian Monza or Belgian Spa Francorchamps circuits. That’s over 88 metres, or the length of an entire football field, every second.

Radio transponders are fitted to the cars to locate the cars as they speed around the course, as well as keep time of their progress. These emit a signal that is picked up by timing devices built into the track surface as the cars pass over, as well as timing the cars to one thousandth of a second (0.001 seconds).

You might be able to see the input/output (I/O) challenge here as, to be accurate, these devices must be discrete and compact. When cars are moving across them at 200 miles per hour the device has potentially less than a millisecond to recognise the incoming signal, identify the vehicle and timestamp the log, all before feeding that information back to the racing teams, race directors and spectating audiences around the world.

It’s reasonable to assume that each circuit and organisation has its own bespoke trackside I/O setup, making them difficult to talk about in general terms. However, it’s also fair to suppose that the technology underscoring them is clearly substantial — you don’t get an I/O system that can log and crunch data within a millisecond by mistake.

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