Portrait of Pierre Bourcier, the autopilot whisperer


While around one hundred engineers from the Group are involved in the Safran project, external consultants are also used, when there are specific problems, such as perfecting the autopilots. Pierre Bourcier, a marine electronics engineer has been very busy on this project.

Info Team Safran

 “If at the start of the Jacques Vabre, we had the autopilots I used in the Vendée Globe, I could have avoided a lot of annoyances. If we had used the Vendée Globe ones for the Transat Jacques Vabre, we would have had great difficulties.” In a couple of sentences, Marc Guillemot sums up the importance of the autopilots on a 60-foot Open. The nerve centre on the boat, they need to be more and more efficient. The proof: “A year ago, it was just not possible to let go of the helm with the spinnaker up in more than twelve knots of wind. Today, we can sail in up to 20 knots of wind under full mainsail and big spinnaker using the autopilot, which changes everything,” explained Marc. Who is behind these improvements? Pierre Bourcier. This marine electronics engineer, who set up the “Seaways” electronics research centre, specializes in autopilots. Marc Guillemot and the Safran Sailing Team entrusted him with ensuring that Safran was fitted with the best you can find.  Technology borrowed from Formula 1 

So what has been Pierre Bourcier’s work? He is applying to boats the latest computer technology used in Formula 1 via a “black box” developed by a racing car manufacturer. Using special software, this enables real time data to be obtained about the forces on the boat, her performance, the wind and sea state, etc. Exactly like an F1 driver and his team receive concerning the behaviour of their car. Supplied by sensors fitted into certain critical parts on the boat, the data that is acquired and processed by this “brain” are vital in making extremely precise adjustments to racing boats such as the Class America boats and the Hydroptère… and the Safran monohull too !. This data should ensure the best possible use of the autopilots and make them increasingly “smart”. Inventing the ideal pilot 

 Pierre Bourcier sums up: ‘It’s a bit like an athlete being permanently monitored with his pulse, muscular contraction index, the efficiency of his contact with the ground, etc.” To put it simply, these new computer solutions supply the numbers, which before were down to the observations and interpretation of the skipper. These can now be backed up by facts and figures. This is very useful, particularly when you need to set up two autopilots as on Safran. “What we’re doing for the moment with Pierre, summed up Thierry Brault, the team manager, is trying to invent the ideal autopilot.” In close collaboration with the Safran Sailing Team, Pierre Bourcier is therefore spending many long hours inside Safran, in order to continue to make improvements to the systems. He is also on board when Marco goes sailing to assist him with adjusting the autopilots. This high level racing requires the best: to reach the top and stay there, it is necessary to continue to innovate. Alongside engineers within the Safran group, the team and, of course, Marc Guillemot, that is precisely what Pierre Bourcier is doing.