While the recovery and analysis of information generated by the black boxes of commercial aircraft generally occurs after disaster has struck, NASCAR specialists routinely analyze black box data in order to prevent disasters on the racetrack. This Incident Data Recording technology is provided by the Witness Asset Protection System used by NASCAR. The system was developed by Independent Witness, and Saft has recently been selected to provide the batteries for the unit’s on-board power.
Ever since the start of the 2002 NASCAR season, every racecar has been equipped with this system, which is mounted on the steel frame left side rail. The Witness records what the driver feels during the dramatic forces that are incurred during an impact. After an incident, or at the conclusion of a race, the recorded data is immediately accessed and analyzed. This gives NASCAR the resolution it needs to design safer cars and more effective safety devices.
The Witness records time, date, force and direction of impact during a crash, and the data is used to design safer racecars and reduce the risk of critical injury following impact. Saft will supply its “AA” LST 14500 lithium-thionyl chloride batteries as the primary power source for this system.
"The Witness black box is a complex, battery powered device and requires superior components in order to operate in a wide variety of temperatures, for extended periods of time, while maintaining absolute accuracy in reporting," explained Thomas Alcide, Saft Specialty Battery Group General Manager. "Independent Witness needed a premium power source and standard AA-size batteries did not meet the standards that the Witness box demanded. We proposed a battery pack that fits the existing space and provides Independent Witness with more than double the power, and a longer lifetime, in the same space as the original alkaline cells."
According to the data sheet for the LST14500 Primary lithium battery, the operating temperature range is from -60°C to +85°C, and the battery has a capacity of 2.45 Ahr. While the form factor of the battery is “AA”, it’s open-circuit voltage of 3.67 V is more than double that of a conventional “AA” alkaline battery. The self-discharge is less than 1% after 1 year of storage at 20°C.
Other features include the use of hermietic glass-to-metal sealing, as well as a non-flammable electrolyte. The battery is non-restricted for transport, and has received UL component recognition. The typical weight of the battery is 17.4 g, or 0.6 oz.
"As the exclusive provider of IDR technology to NASCAR's top three sponsored series (NEXTEL CUP, Busch, and Craftsman Truck), it is critical that our products never fail," said Scott McClellan, Executive Vice President/Founder, Independent Witness. "We selected Saft batteries to meet our stringent quality and reliability standards to ensure we provide our customers with a premium data recording device." The World Rally Championship (WRC), a division of Formula 1 Racing (FIA), GrandAM, GM-Racing, and IROC (International Race of Champions) also use the Witness technology, exclusively.
In addition to professional racing, Saft batteries power the Independent Witness black box in numerous other applications, including the monitoring of NASA's Space Shuttle's solid rocket boosters, public transportation, taxicabs and fleet management, as well as seismic monitoring (strong motion sensing) of structural assets. Information gathered by the unit can be used to accurately decide insurance and courtroom claims and is the only long life, battery powered, shock data recorder adhering to the SAE J-211 specification.
The popularity of professional racing as a national sport is growing. While it is a dangerous sport, the technology behind it, including the battery technology used in the Witness, may lead to additional breakthroughs in safety for consumer automobiles. NASCAR is here to stay. The danger inherent in all automobiles need not be.