Black Box Project aims to improve hydroplane racing safety - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Black Box Project aims to improve hydroplane racing safety

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On March 28, 2009, the first Northwest Safety Seminar dedicated to addressing safety in power boat racing was conducted in Kent, Washington. In April, phase two of an aggressive new safety program was launched in Phoenix Arizona at Firebird Raceways at the season opener of the Unlimited Light Hydroplane Racing Association.

The innovative "Black Box program" is being developed cooperatively between the Union of International Motorboating, the ULHRA, and inthinc, a developer and manufacturer of technologies to improve driving safety. The Union of International Motorboating, or UIM, is the international governing body of power boating. It is recognized as such by the International Olympic Committee and 52 member nations.

What have been dubbed "black boxes" are actually a product of inthinc called the Witness® Incident Data Recorder. Witness®, was initially designed for the insurance industry to help address losses due to fraudulent claims. In 2001, following the tragic death of Dale Earnhardt, NASCAR® mandated crash data recorders and turned to the Witness® product in their quest to create the safest car possible for the sport. Information obtained from the recorder helped shape the design and engineering decisions leading to ‘The Car of Tomorrow'. Racing series other than NASCAR's Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Truck Series, that use inthinc's Witness products include, FIA, WRC, Australia's V8 Supercars, GrandAM, and F1 Boats. inthinc has developed innovations such as waySmartTM and tiwiPROTM for industrial fleets and tiwiTM for teen drivers and their parents. 

The safety aspect of this technology is so significant, that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ( is releasing a major, multi-year teen study later this week. It features tiwi and some of the same technology used by the Unlimited Light Hydroplane Racing Association. inthinc combines innovative ideas with engineering expertise to create technology that mentors drivers to save lives, prevent accidents and safeguard property. inthinc technology dramatically improves driver behavior and has been documented by clients to reduce accidents by 80-90%.

Bob Wartinger, President of the UIM's Safety and Medical Commission explains. "Data recording has been going on for about 15 years in auto racing for the purposes of collecting crash data. It has become much more sophisticated in the last five years. In NASCAR, for example, there was enough data collected that they used it to design the ‘Car of Tomorrow' that they are racing now and injuries have dropped dramatically during the recent years. To do that they had data from about 140 cars, 40 races a year, for a number of years with lots of crashes. That's what it took. Real world crash data with live human beings are at a premium. Even NASA utilizes competitive motorsports crash data to make their lunar lander designs safer. Unfortunately in the boat racing world, we have very little of this kind of data.

Seats, belts, restraints, HANS type devices, crush zones, etc. are now designed from the crash data. Crash data, along with film is used to analyze an accident. Sled tests are done in the laboratory using the crash impulses to test improvements, then the designs are incorporated in the cars.

We have no data, or it's well hidden data, on hydroplane loads. Regardless, there's no time like now! This is the beginning of a multi-year hydroplane data gathering program. Analysis and consequently design and safety improvements are the expected outcome. First we learn the baseline loads, then keep adjusting the recording thresholds during the first season. We analyze each collision event and store those traces in a database for analysis. Even non-collision events are helpful in better understanding the operational environment for both man and machine. After the thresholds are set, data is generally recorded when there is some type of incident that exceeds the thresholds, such as a spin-out or blow over.

Unlimited Light Hydroplane Racing Association President Joe Frauenheim said, "Our recent race at Firebird Raceways in Arizona was a first for hydroplane racing and the ULHRA. We installed three ‘black boxes' in the UL-72, UL-00 and the G-93 to record data which we hope to use to develop safer cockpits for our drivers. We will continue to collect data throughout the season to determine the forces exerted on the boats and drivers during the events.   With this data, manufacturers can make better products to make our drivers comfortable and safer."

The three hydroplanes who participated in the first batch of data collection are owned by Frauenheim (Impact Racing), Muncey Racing and Johnson-Wolfe Racing.  For more information on the manufacturer of the hydroplane "black box", please visit For more information regarding the Unlimited Light Hydroplane Racing Association, please visit

SOURCE  ULHRA, Muncey Marketing