Top Stories from the Business pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Thursday, March 5, 1998

High-Tech Firms Profit From Racetrack Innovations

By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
PARIS - It is not just the race car that benefits from Formula One's technological advancements. The companies working on the car's development are using their experience in racing to develop their own commercial products:

Dassault Systemes SA brought aeronautical know-how to the sport through its Catia design software and wants to transfer Formula One advances back to aeronautics, according to Jean-Marc Galea, the French company's manager for the Prost Grand Prix project.

''Formula One constructs small, compact and very light composite parts that no one knows how to do in aeronautical design,'' Mr. Galea said, referring to the molded carbon fibers in a race car's body. ''The cockpit of a race car is very small and has a very complex shape. Even the nose is very pointed and made with composite materials. These kinds of parts don't exist in aeronautics.''

Commercial car manufacturers, according to Bernard Dudot, formerly director of Renault Sport, cannot directly apply their race engine technology to an assembly-line engine. One is built for a life of 400 kilometers at extremely high speed, while the other is built to last a couple of hundred thousand kilometers.

But he said the knowledge the engineers acquire creating a racing engine in the highly competitive environment helps in resolving problems in the assembly lines for commercial engines.

''For an engineer to have experiences that are so specific yet peripheral is extremely enriching, extremely strong,'' he said. ''It adds a great deal of value to the knowledge of a research department. And that translates into quality in the everyday car.''

Alcatel Alsthom provides the Prost team with the radio communication between the pits and the drivers, Olivier Panis and Jarno Trulli.

Gilles Thevenet, Alcatel's manager for the Prost project, said the company had developed technology for the race team that can be transferred directly to a commercial product.

The difficulties of radio communication in Formula One include, in addition to the constraints of the car, the very lively electromagnetic fields at the track, with television signals, all the teams' radios and other cellular devices used simultaneously.

For Prost, Alcatel started with a noise-blocking system it uses in an everyday car phone that a driver does not have to hold, the Handsfree Digital Car Kit. The system digitally differentiates the sound frequencies of the voice, the engine and other sources of noise, and then divides the components, canceling out all but the voice.

''In testing it in the highly constrained, vibrating and loud environment of the Formula One car,'' Mr. Thevenet said, ''we figured out certain anomalies that we found in the everyday car but couldn't understand.''

Alcatel will use those findings in a future version of the car phone, he said.

Back to Samples Index