Data Mining

Bloodhound 1000mph land speed record bid driven by data

The plan is to go from 0-1000mph in 55 seconds. If it was fired vertically it would apparently reach 25,000ft, easily clearing Europe’s highest mountain Mont Blanc or Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Of course the plan is to keep it on the ground and that’s where the real challenge starts for the Bloodhound SSC team that hopes to break the land speed world record in the South African Hakskeenpan desert next year.

Working out of an industrial park unit in Avonmouth in the south west of England, Mark Chapman, chief engineer at Bloodhound, talks about the role sensors and data analytics will play in developing the car’s performance but also in keeping the car safe. He’s speaking at a Delcam and Light Consortium gathering, showcasing the use of Additive Manufacturing in metal, so what is the main worry at the moment apart from keeping the car horizontal? 

“We are concerned about the fin,” says Chapman, standing near the cockpit where current world record holder Andy Green will sit with a rocket over his shoulder. That’s understandable. The fin is a crucial part of the car’s stability and therefore safety.

“On the fin we have three types of sensors measuring pressure, oscillation and heat,” he adds. The latter is particularly important given that the jet engine, with casings reaching 300 degrees, is just below the fin’s fixings.

Measuring and monitoring pressure across the car is crucial. Chapman says that at 10,200 RPM the force at the rim of one of the wheels will be 50,000 G, and although they can predict pressures on parts based on past experience, the Bloodhound will be entering new territory when it gets above 800mph.

“On the car itself we have 180 pressure sensors,” he says. “We can predict the impact of the current record, 763mph to 800 quite comfortably but going beyond that we don’t know yet and computer modelling is only so good.”

Chapman says any predictions need validating from test runs so the ability to effectively transmit data during live runs will help the team determine any data anomalies, where predictions are wrong and so on.

Low frequency

“We are gathering data from around 500 data channels live at up to 10Khz. During the run we transmit the data at a lower frequency and that’s being used to enrich the data off the car. There are also 11 cameras on the car, so we can see everything from Andy’s heart rate and pulse through to acceleration, Gs and the pressure sensors. How you enrich this data and overlay it is certainly one of the things we are showcasing.”

The team has apparently written a lot of software to analyse the data post-run. After the initial run, the team has an hour’s turnaround with the car stationary for about 50 minutes.

“During that time we are looking for any data that sits outside of where we think it should be. Have we seen a massive increase in pressure on the rear? Where are we diverging from the predictions and what can we do on the second run to correct it?”

The Bloodhound has between 400-500 sensors transmitting, which says Chapman is about the same number as a Daimler articulated lorry. This, after all is not an exercise in pushing the boundaries of intelligent vehicles. Yes there are some tech innovations but the whole project means more than that.

“We are not trying to be too clever,” says Chapman, who also talked about the role of the project in promoting science and technology in education. The organisation has set up a separate site – – to share the project and provide a platform for science exploration and sharing. It has tools and resources across all age groups and two years ago it was involved in offering advice and inspiration to young engineers at the James Whitaker School in England that broke the world land speed record for a model car.

When Bloodhound has its first test in UK coastal town Newquay later this year (a run that is expected to reach around 220mph) the impact of the project will already have been felt across the UK and in South Africa. Schools in the Hakskeenpan region now have good internet access and the project is the largest employer in the area. Even if Bloodhound doesn’t hit its 1000mph target next year, the legacy of promoting science and engineering to a new generation will surely live on.


Related reading:

Inside Lotus’s F1 factory

Inside Mercedes' F1 factory: Simulator, data and sensors

Data drives Grand Prix success at Lotus


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Marc Ambasna-Jones

Marc Ambasna-Jones is a UK-based freelance writer and media consultant and has been writing about business and technology since 1989.

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