What inspired you to build Artificial Intelligence into a hydrofoil system? This is pretty exciting and pioneering technology...
We believe hydrofoils are opening a new dimension in all kinds of water sports. However, there are limitations with existing hydrofoils: static geometry, instability, and a narrow range of use depending on conditions. With the iUP, we are replicating a simple concept that originates from aviation technology: embedded electronics and adaptable wing geometry. At lower speeds, the iUP’s Autopilot will lower the foil’s wing flaps to allow for a very low take- off speed; it then retracts the flaps as the foil accelerates, for better speed and overall performance. The Autopilot technology manages foiling’s natural instabilities, which will enable adoption of this technology in many different foiling disciplines, such as wing and kite foiling, but also in even more extreme conditions, such as big wave riding. That said, it is still human-powered A.I.! Users can interact with the Autopilot and change the navigation settings through a smartphone app. Additionally, the front wing geometry can be adjusted manually using the smartphone app before riding and can be locked in a specific position.
How tough is it developing a front wing that reacts differently to all different angles? Surely there are many, many more parameters to consider than with a static wing?
This is really tough indeed! Our wing has been developed over hundreds of hours of designing, programming, and testing. The challenge is finding the balance between different conditions, foiling disciplines, and riders’s styles. We therefore designed the front wing behavior and response to be programmable by the riders themselves, so they can adapt the iUP’s pre-set behavior to their own feel and style. In addition, all riders can choose to share their navigation data with our team, in order to enhance the performance of the wing over time. The engineering and industrialization of the wing was also a significant challenge.
Could you tell us more specifically about the engineering of the iUP’s front wing?
The front section of the wing is attached to the fuselage in the same manner as a regular wing. In fact, we use the same mounting system as our classic hydrofoil wings. The wing flaps, located at the back of the wing, operate on a subtle hinge, making the wing literally bend. We call it Actuated Foil Technology. The wing flaps are similar to those you would typically see on the wing of an airplane. These dynamic elements are electrically actuated with servo motors – so strong that they can each lift a human being – and are an integral part of the wing, molded in flexible carbon fiber.
We understand you drew some inspiration for the iUP’s front wing from supercars?
We were considering several options for integrating the flaps into the front wing of the iUP. Along that journey, we were inspired by the McLaren Speedtail supercar, as the specially- designed, elongated rear tail of the car is also integrated directly into its body. The iUP being such a breakthrough in the foiling world, it was important for us to design a new wing that would reflect that high level of technology, design and performance.
We’re also aware you are involved a bit with racing boats. Can you tell us anything about this?
The stability issue in racing boats is comparable to hydrofoils designed for surf sports, just on a different scale. Our experience in aerospace engineering, sensor technology, and flight control systems is also helping us to design navigation systems for hydrofoil boats. As such, our algorithms can also be used to review data and do continuous performance management on the new generation of hydrofoil racing boats!
How does the wing respond to user input in the autopilot function?
The answer is: it depends! The Autopilot can be set to control the dominant axes of the foil (pitch and roll), or angular rate (speed and frequency). Therefore, it can give a more smooth or rigid ride, depending on the speed and performance desired by the rider. Generally speaking, we try to enhance maneuverability at lower speeds and add more control at greater speeds. The result is a wing profile that constantly adapts to changing speed and creates the feel of a surface area from 1100 cm2 to 2400 cm2.
What methods do you use to test the platform in practice and how has the feedback been from riders?
We use several different methods, including numerical simulations, real-life sessions with testers, and an autonomous testing platform. Rider feedback has been instrumental to iterate and streamline the iUP’s development to create the right settings for each sport. Experienced riders were amazed to be able to highlight issues, talk to our engineers, change a few things on the Autopilot on the beach, and then go back to the water and notice the corrections. Some said that it felt like being a Formula One driver…
And does it make life easier for beginners?
Yes for sure, for less experienced riders we focused on finding the right balance between assistance and rider manual control, as you would in a modern high-performance sports car. In any case, you can really feel the flaps providing corrections in real time, which gives an impression of comfort, safety, and performance.
What is the purpose of your autonomous testing platform, and how does it work?
This is a good story. Our headquarters are in Switzerland on Lake Geneva, and it gets really cold in winter. It became hard to find testers willing to stay on the water for hours to conduct real-life fatigue testing on the foil. Due to this, we decided to put an electric propeller on the iUP, and using the frame of an efoil, we were able to test the iUP for hours and hours, without any human rider. We could control the iUP directly from the shore using a 4G connection, and study all the navigation data comfortably from our warm office!
Where do you see the iUP’s concept going when applied across all foil sports?
Many people ask why we are bringing such an innovation to water sports. In fact, sports are a very interesting playground to push innovation, and athletes are always looking for better ways to perform. Our technology can be leveraged for all other foiling sports, especially for sailing or efoiling. There are also many other applications and possibilities for our technology beyond foil sports, ranging from recreational boating to autonomous navigation on the water.
Last question: when will the iUP be available?
We start pre-orders on April 15th, and are closing a round of validation testing right now!
Article published by the Foiling Magazine: https://www.thefoilingmagazine.com