America's Cup: The Simulator, Unlike the Real Thing, Can't Be Sunk



From the outside, it looks like a SoMa body and fender shop. You can guess it's a tech startup , however, because a parking spot has been removed in favor of bike corrals.

On the inside you can confirm it's a tech startup due to the de rigueur presence of a foosball table. And you can tell it's a New Zealand tech startup because the table soccer pieces are white and black, like an All-Blacks jersey.

In fact, the bright, airy space isn't just one startup but the Kiwi Landing Pad, a partnership between entrepreneurs and the Kiwi government to help techies hoping to expand beyond the island nation's 4.4 million population establish a foothold here in the city. Today the gathered media were called to look around the joint -- which may or may not have been a surprise for the earbudded tech folks pounding on laptops in the back of the room and occasionally glancing up as politicians and tech titans in sneakers exchanged business cards.

The media was offered an enticement to attend beyond witnessing open-air glad-handing: A chance to take on a cutting-edge America's Cup simulator. The crack technologists from Animation Research who crafted the simulator assured us that, no matter what, it was impossible for the boat to disintegrate and sink.

That would hit just a little too close to home.

In fact, none of the maladies of the Incredible Shrinking America's Cup are contained within the simulator. It's just two massive boats going real fast on astoundingly rendered water, and with very realistic depictions of Auckland or Dubai in the background.

WitherellAmericasCupSimulator.jpg
Joe Eskenazi
Guardian scribe Amanda Witherell takes on the simulator

Animation Research is a Dunedin-based tech company that has nothing to do with armies of marauding orcs. Instead, they focus on sports -- they do ball-tracking for cricket and golf, and 3-D graphics for Formula One racing. If you choose to watch America's Cup broadcasts on TV -- the broadcasts the America's Cup must actually pay to put on the air -- you'll see their 3-D modeling during the races.

Some of the teams are using a version of their simulator, which actually utilizes the physics of the massive AC72 catamrans and the wind patterns of the bay. On those simulators, you actually can crash the boat. But the version brought out for the general public -- which you can play on the America's Cup Pavilion -- is more forgiving. You can't wreck the boat. The boats cannot crash into one another. No one is going to drown.

That was probably a wise move. When it comes to the America's Cup, strict adherence to reality isn't very much fun.

A round of applause emanated from the gathering of tech leaders and political leaders. State Sen. Leland Yee told the crowd that "In California, an individual with an idea can make a lot of money and help a lot of people" -- in that order.

Assemblywoman Fiona Ma told the Kiwi entrepreneurs to consider the politicos present to be "a resource. We want to help you help us."

Ma may yet help the Kiwis navigate the state's "red tape." But she had great difficulty navigating the virtual America's Cup course. At one point, her boat slowed to a walking pace as she struggled to haul it upwind. John Rendell, Animation Research's head of technology, finished so far ahead of her that the race simply ended.

He went on to whip your humble narrator as well.



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