THE APPLIANCE OF SCIENCE

McLaren Automotive build cutting-edge high-performance road cars, and McLaren Racing has achieved sporting success in the highest echelons of motorsport for over 50 years, but there is a third arm of McLaren that is less well known and altogether more secretive: McLaren Applied Technologies

 

You’ll know McLaren Applied Technologies as the brains behind the recently unveiled MP4-X, a concept car that gives us a glimpse into the future of motorsport. You may not know that Applied Technologies traces its origins back to the late 1980s with McLaren Electronics – with which it merged – and is the fastest-growing company within the McLaren Technology Group. It can count every team on the Formula 1™ and NASCAR grids as a customer, and works with partners as diverse as pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, bicycle manufacturer Specialized, London’s Heathrow Airport and KPMG. Join us for an in-depth look at McLaren Applied Technologies to discover more about its most exciting projects, from next-generation wearable technology to how it might influence future McLaren road cars.

‘In racing, winning means crossing the finish line first,’ says Geoff McGrath, Applied Technologies’ Chief Innovation Officer. ‘But for us it means being the first to do something, being the best, or going beyond what people think are the limits of performance. That shapes the sort of people we engage with, either those at the top of their game ­– quite often market leaders – or disruptors who are coming in to shake up the world order. We don't take on projects for the sake of work, we’re only interested in working with the very best.’

 

A concept car like no other, the MP4-X showcased McLaren’s vision for the future of motorsport technology.

 

 

That work falls into two categories: data-driven design and data-driven decision support. Data-driven design uses Applied Technologies’ expertise to create the very best products, from advanced road and race cars, to sports and health equipment. In 2011 Californian bicycle giant Specialized tasked Applied Technologies with reducing the weight of their already impressive carbon fibre Venge racing bike frame by 15 percent without compromising stiffness. McLaren more than delivered with the S-Works+ McLaren Venge – a frame 20 percent lighter using the same materials and manufacturing process.

McLaren Applied Technologies also revolutionised how Specialized works, taking the data-driven approach used for car design (McLaren Automotive’s road cars are developed in Applied Technologies’ simulators before a physical vehicle is built) and applying it to the two-wheeled format. ‘We deconstructed the bike and rebuilt it as a complex mathematical formula,’ says Duncan Bradley, Head of High Performance Design. ‘So instead of optimising the bike based on rider feedback, which is subjective and variable, the formula helps us objectively understand how bikes perform in the real world – and thus informs the design to a much greater extent than ever before. It’s amazingly accurate, and Specialized, who are leaders in their sector, were thrilled with the results and told us: “We learnt more about bike design in six months than we did in the last 10 years.”’

 

 

Applied Technologies’ data-driven decision support work is equally groundbreaking in bringing advanced predictive analytics, intelligence and innovation to core business operations, whether that’s optimising drilling performance for the oil and gas industry in the North Sea, or revolutionising the management of aircraft at London’s Heathrow Airport. ‘The air traffic controllers have to react as events unfold, but at the same time they have a fixed schedule,’ explains Geoff McGrath. ‘If bad weather causes a disruption, it's very hard for a person to make the correct judgement calls about which planes to cancel and which planes to reschedule, taking into account parameters such as CO2 emissions and turnaround time at the gate. Using algorithms and techniques we developed a programme that uses machine learning, which means it can actually suggest the course of action to take. So by knowing the outcome you can make better decisions, more often and with less stress. It also means that a new operator can behave like a veteran with years of experience.’

There is, of course, constant crossover between data-driven design and data-driven decision support. ‘We’re currently working with GlaxoSmithKline [GSK] on a pre-clinical trial around ALS, the progressive neurodegenerative disease,’ says Jim Newton, Market Development Director. ‘We're using the next-generation of wearable technology to remotely sense and understand the condition of individuals and the effects of their treatment. It's a more insightful and timely way of looking at how a human body responds to influences, and the context in which it is living. You get a richer picture of the person's quality of life in what we call a free-living environment, rather than in a clinical setting for an hour every two or three months. It's potentially hugely effective.’

 

 

McLaren Applied Technologies is applying this advanced wearable technology, and the tools for interpreting the data and predicting future trends, to the burgeoning health and wellness industry. At the moment, the market is dominated by watch-style trackers, and while they’re convenient, they can’t measure the really useful data. ‘Using McLaren’s technology and algorithms from the medical world we can collect rich and insightful data without cumbersome sensors,’ reveals Duncan Bradley. ‘Combining that data with the context of our lifestyles – in other words, what are we asking our bodies to do and how they react – means we're moving from a place where everyone is measuring steps to a place with personalised wearables.’

That doesn’t mean you’ll be bombarded with reams of unintelligible data. Applied Technologies knows from its Formula 1™ experience that every extra sensor is additional weight and complexity, so it only wishes to capture small puddles of high-value insight rather than enormous lakes of data. What follows next is providing each user with valuable insight: ‘Telling everyone to do 10,000 steps isn’t useful because this assumes we’re all the same,’ says Geoff McGrath. ‘Yet once you have a history of data you can recognise patterns, and better understand how your body responds. It might recognise a change in posture, or know that after a certain amount of exercise you need more rest. It’s a move into a world of educating people about how their bodies respond to the things they're doing. We extract meaningful insight and present it in such a format that you can act upon that data, or someone else can act upon it to look after you.’

 

McLaren Applied Technologies’ laboratories and design studios – within the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, England – create groundbreaking technological solutions.

 

That’s just one aspect of next-generation wearables though. ‘These devices will be at the heart of the Next Machine Age as a connected and intelligent product,’ reveals Geoff McGrath. ‘They’ll sense the world around us and link to other things to make our lives better.’ You can already remotely set the heating in your house, but in the future your wearable will actively configure it during the evening commute, and thanks to deeper links with your home it’ll also order food to meet your nutritional needs. Your car will be connected to other vehicles to provide live traffic data and prevent collisions, and will communicate with your wearable so your commute might be tailored to reduce stress, or it will take you on the route it knows you find most exhilarating. Wearables will record the data, see the trends and provide insight to educate and improve personal performance, how we walk into the office and how we feel at weekends.

The Next Machine Age will have the biggest change on our lives since the Industrial Revolution,’ says Geoff McGrath. ‘Here at McLaren Applied Technologies we’re incredibly well placed because a Formula 1™ car is a great example of such connectivity – it’s bristling with sensors and communication technology that allows us to extract insight and value about how to get the most from that car. And as well as applying our racing technology to projects, our mission is to deliver breakthroughs in performance through the application of all advanced technology and design – and that in turn feeds new ideas back into both our racing cars and our road cars.’

 

McLaren Applied Technologies’ pioneering simulators have become an invaluable tool in the development of future McLaren road cars.

 

Such an influence has already been seen, as Applied Technologies worked with McLaren Automotive to create the lightweight and powerful 179PS (177bhp) electric motor that forms part of the innovative IPAS petrol-electric powertrain in the McLaren P1™. And our next generation of high-performance supercars are being tested in Applied Technologies’ Formula 1™ simulators as we develop chassis, powertrain and electronic systems on future models. Who knows, perhaps in the near future wearable technology will have a role to play in high-performance road cars, as they adapt and react to a driver’s real-time physical data inputs – whether that is adjusting the cabin temperature, warning of fatigue, or anticipating the desired sharpness of the throttle or speed of the gearshifts as you approach your favourite road. Our road cars utilise technology and leanings from five decades of race-winning success too, so if the innovative MP4-X is our vision of the future of motorsport, imagine what the future of our road cars might be…

 

 

 

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