Track Time

Track Time

Motorcycles are probably not the first thing that leaps to mind upon the mention of mission-critical applications for wireless technology. But in World Championship Grand Prix racing (Moto GP), the prototype machines hurtling around the track are largely dependent on an Engine Control Unit (ECU). This little black box communicates wirelessly with software that optimizes engine braking, traction control, shifting, and a stunning number of other precise functions in accordance with every section of the track.

The necessity of the ECU was made apparent several weeks ago at the Estoril track in Portugal, where Ducati rider Nicky Hayden was essentially riding a horse without reins for the duration of the race. Evidently a stray radio signal interfered with the ECU’s transponder, throwing its electronic calibrations out of phase around the circuit. Basically, as Hayden said after the race, “the bike didn’t know where it was on the track.”

This brings to mind all kinds of questions about frequency coordination and RF shielding. Actually, it’s surprising this type of mishap does not happen more often, given the fact that racetracks tend to have just a few wireless frequencies in operation during events.

The essential nature of the ECU is a particularly salient point this year in the Moto GP, as another class of racers known as Claiming Rule Teams (CRT, an old acronym we know well) has entered the fray. During these tough economic times, it’s hard to find enough factorybacked teams willing to pony up the cash to keep racing in Moto GP. So now the field has been opened to a hybrid breed of bikes that most significantly will lack the ECU component.

CRT racers pose quite a hazard to faster, more precise bikes that have factory backing. When the leaders of the pack need to pass a cluster of slower riders, you’re asking for trouble.

In a demanding environment where bikes are traveling upwards of 200 miles per hour, it’s critical that a team has invested in an ECU. And following that, the ECU must communicate with the real-time race data crunched by software back in the pit. That ECU represents the expertise, training, and scientific marvel that can make or break a racing team.

Maybe you’ve noted that some of your competitors seem to lack an ECU. But more importantly, have you discovered what drives your ECU? And have you communicated that data and those advisories to your team?

As we head into InfoComm this month, every company has a plan to make the most of the show. Just make sure you’ve calibrated your ECU properly. Education and training, networking, and product discovery are all important components that can either give you the inside line or send you hurtling wide at the corners.