Haas F1 driver Romain Grosjean, who survived a horrific accident during the Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix, is hoping that data from neural sensors can help better understand the crash and improve driver safety in future races.
Haas and Formula 1 have been working with Swiss HealthTech start-up MindMaze to develop a digitally connected balaclava, worn by drivers under their helmet, which uses its bio-sensing net to relay key neural signatures of drivers and the pit crew to medical teams in real-time.
Grosjean was wearing one of these ‘MindDrive’ balaclavas, when his car clipped Daniil Kvyat’s AlphaTauri and crashed into the barrier at Turn 3, before being engulfed in a large flame and pulled out of it by brave marshals at Bahrain International Circuit (BIC).
“There are many grey areas in F1, questions that have been highlighted by my accident,” Romain said.
“And the next big step to me is to understand what’s happening in the helmet, the brain. Physically we’ve seen that I came out of the car intact with, yes, a bit of burning on my hands and we can improve safety on the gloves that’s for sure. That’s going to be a step.
“But also what’s happening in the brain of the driver? With MindDrive, I believe in my accident, we can understand what was the interaction between my brain, my helmet, the headrest, and why I didn’t lose consciousness.
“In a 60G impact, you should lose consciousness – even for a few seconds. You shouldn’t be as aware as I was, and that saved my life.
“But I would like us to understand what we can do better on the helmet and headrests and safety so the driver, even with big impacts, stays conscious for whatever work he has to do to escape.”
MindMaze also signed a multi-year deal with McLaren last year and aims for the balaclava to become “a universal safety feature across all motor sports and in turn, the whole automotive industry.”
Some see this as the next step in driving the car itself, as the human-machine interface moves to neural impulses but the immediate effect of the ‘mindreading’ technology is likely to be seen in crash insights gained from data collected during the race.
While F1 was touted as the ‘fastest research and development (R&D) lab on Earth,’ much of the vehicle innovations are too expensive and specialised to be used in production cars.
However, in connectivity and data analytics, insights gained from races, where milliseconds can be the difference between victory and a crash, have proven to be crucial. This has attracted a slew of technology companies to the track to put their latest innovations to the test.
F1 cars today depend on high-tech sensors and processing the data they collect to stay competitive. An F1 car has hundreds of sensors logging thousands of channels of data, measuring all kinds of things from forces and displacements, temperatures and pressures to control parameters for the power unit and gearbox as well as driver inputs.
Some data can be accessed in real-time and the majority is only transferred from the car to the engineers when the car comes into the pits - either through a very fast wireless connection or with the so-called umbilical cord.
In 2017, the Mercedes started using a system of two high-tech wireless technologies so while the car is travelling through the pit lane, it automatically starts transmitting data wirelessly.
Once it is within four metres of the garage, it switches to a fast uplink, transmitting the data from car to garage at speeds of up to 1.9 gigabytes (GB) per second.
In other words, transmitting three GBs of data takes less than five seconds.
Qualcomm has developed a consumer variant, using F1 as an R&D environment, putting their product to the ultimate test. In the future, similar technologies will come to smartphones, leading to better speeds, more reliable connections and smarter connected cars.
Collecting this data is only the start, as an average F1 team collects approximately 500GB of data over just one race weekend at the track.
At the factory, a team like Mercedes produces five to 10 terabytes of data per week and over the span of a season, has to glean insights from 350 terabytes of data!
To put that in context, an average GulfWeekly page, including pictures, is about three megabytes and F1 data engineers would need to read 87.5 million GulfWeekly pages worth of data, over the span of a year.
Hospitals and other healthcare providers also generate similar amounts of data in today’s connected clinics, which is what has attracted HealthTech companies like MindMaze to start working with F1 to ‘fast-track’ the development of platforms like the Cerebral Initiative.