Episode 38: Enhancing Human Performance…Using Motorsport Technology

McLaren Applied Technologies works at applying the principles of Formula 1 technology to deliver quantifiable deliver quantifiable performance advantage to four key sectors including Motorsport, Automotive, Public Transport and Health. The latter aims to enhance human performance in high intensity professions, elite athletes and racing drivers. Duncan Bradley, Health & Human Performance Business Unit Director, outlines how the digital transformation of motorsport has allowed them to develop transformative solutions.
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Listen In To Learn:

  • How McLaren Racing diversified into Health and Human Performance
  • How breakthrough innovations come from the intersection of art and computer engineering
  • How big data is sparking innovation in health care
  • How to build credibility in an established industry

Formula 1 Is More Than Just Winning Races

Sure, winning Formula 1 racing is done on powerful analytics but for McLaren Applied Technologies, their ability to innovate reached break-neck speed when they decided to take their learnings and apply them beyond racing, and into health and human performance. Harnessing the sensor and data analysis capabilities developed in Formula 1, McLaren Applied Technologies creates digital therapeutic solutions that optimise and personalise treatment for better clinical outcomes.

On this week’s episode, we steer into the fast lane with Duncan Bradley, Health & Human Performance Business Unit Director, as he discusses how McLaren Applied Technologies takes data from our bodies to enhance human performance.

Featured Luminary: Duncan Bradley, Health & Human Performance Business Unit Director, McLaren Applied Technologies

As founding member of McLaren Applied Technologies and second recruit in 2006 Duncan has contributed significantly to developing the fastest growing company within McLaren, working in advanced design and technology solutions and products.

Hybrid product designer and engineer by education with a 20 year career within advanced design and technology sectors including sports, consumer, medical, automotive, motor-sport, defense and FMCG sectors, working with start-ups and established global brands in strategic and commercial product innovation. Specializing in architecting advanced design and technologies for end to end product solutions in line with market and company strategies or future trends. Broad and deep experience with global companies, SMEs and start-ups, operating at leadership and executive level.

My vision for technology is that it’s used to allow us to focus, improve and define a better future on the most important things in life such as our health, the environment and lifestyle.

— Duncan Bradley, Health & Human Performance Business Unit Director, Applied Technologies

Luminaries Hosts

  • Mark Schaefer Author, Consultant, College Educator. Mark is a leading authority on marketing strategy, consultant, blogger, podcaster, and the author of six best-selling books, including "KNOWN." He has two advanced degrees and studied under Peter Drucker in graduate school. Some of his clients include Microsoft, GE, Johnson & Johnson and the US Air Force
  • Douglas Karr Technologist, Author, Speaker. Pre-Internet, Douglas started his career as a Naval electrician before going to work for the newspaper industry. His ability to translate business needs into technology during the advent of the Internet paved the way for his digital career. Douglas owns an Indianapolis agency, runs a MarTech publication, is a book author, and speaks internationally on digital marketing, technology, and media.

NARRATOR: Luminaries– talking to the brightest minds in tech.
MAN: We are technologists, and we share an awesome responsibility. The next three decades will hold even more progress coming more quickly than ever before. A new age of miracles is literally just around the corner.
NARRATOR: Your hosts are Mark Schaefer and Douglas Karr.
MARK SCHAEFER: Hey, everyone. Welcome to another episode of Luminaries, where we talk to the brightest minds in tech. This is Mark Schaefer with my co-host, Douglas Karr. And we’re hitting a milestone today–
MARK SCHAEFER: –on Luminaries. This is the first show we’ve hosted someone a second time, a company a second time.
DOUGLAS KARR: Kind of the same company. I guess a company within a company.
MARK SCHAEFER: A company within a company. So now, everyone is thoroughly confused. But it is exciting because we’ve hosted McLaren twice on our show. And last year we interviewed Zak Brown, the CEO of McLaren Motorsports, one of our favorites.
And what I’ve learned is McLaren is a lot more than racing.
DOUGLAS KARR: Absolutely.
MARK SCHAEFER: McLaren Applied Technologies is combining technology– duh–
DOUGLAS KARR: Yeah. That’s why we’re here.
MAN: That’s why we’re here.
MARK SCHAEFER: –data and innovation to explore four key sectors undergoing disruptive change– motorsport, automotive, public transport, and health. Pretty cool.
So Duncan Bradley is here with us today. He leads the health and human performance business unit for McLaren Applied Technologies. Duncan, welcome to the show. And why don’t tell us a little bit about what you’re working on at McLaren.
DUNCAN BRADLEY: Ah, yeah. It’s good to come back. Thanks for inviting me. And let’s hope I can live up to Zak’s performance.
Yeah. So applied technologies is a really exciting part of our business. It’s actually been around from birth around about 30 years, actually. And so really quite a long time.
And it started with Formula 1 telemetry. And we started monitoring cars in really rich real-time data. And it gave us such an advantage, such a performance, the only way we were allowed to continue that was to sell it to all the other teams. And it actually– that was about 30 years ago.
MARK SCHAEFER: Did not know that.
MARK SCHAEFER: Did not know that.
DUNCAN BRADLEY: And so if you trace it back, that was our first diversification outside of our business and selling your products or services to other companies. So that continues today– until today.
But about 10 years ago, we started to think even more broadly. And I met with Ron Dennis at the time. And I came into the business.
He said, look, we’re investing all of this time and money into this really cool technology. Can you come and tell me what else we could do with it?
MARK SCHAEFER: Now, what was your background at the time? Why did he reach out to you? What were you doing at the time?
DUNCAN BRADLEY: So my background was actually in product design. And I was in a technology consultancy prior to that, and looking– actually, that’s what we did. We looked to different technologies. We looked to the market trends, and started to sort of predict, not huge amount of time forward, but, yeah, maybe 2, 3, 5, up to maybe 10 years.
And then, that’s really what kind of he wanted to do. He had a vision for the company. And it’s to diversify.
And he gave me three great lessons– two or three great rules, actually, which I will never forget, which they were so basic. And I kind of chuckled at a time. But they did so well. And it was, don’t damage the brand, don’t lose me any money, and stay well away from the cars, please.
And it was– and I kind of came out of the office and sort of chuckled. But actually– but that’s it. And in everything that I look back and now kind of test is, is it damaging the brand? And is it taking us forward? Are we losing any money? And am I messing with the cars? And, you know, just having something there.
So, you know, it runs away. It was exactly that. And really, that’s where it kind of started. And the health and human performance business started right there and then.
And the analogy was well, if we are monitoring cars in rich real and fast time and being predictive, why wouldn’t we do that for humans? And that’s kind of where we started with the business unit about 10 years ago.
DOUGLAS KARR: How– I’m curious. I loved that your background is in design. And I think as we look forward to the future, I keep saying that that’s just a critical element of innovation. I’m curious within your role, how that’s helped you be successful within your role?
DUNCAN BRADLEY: Yeah. So at McLaren there’s incredibly deep expertise. We have people who are really the best in their field. And actually, no criticism, but they’re actually very narrow fields, I think, because they need to be. They need to be experts in data science or simulation or strategy.
And engineers tend to optimize. They tend to focus and optimize around a single thing. But what I recognized– I’m an engineer as well, and I kind of recognize that.
But if you sort of draw back, if you try and draw a parallel with the designer, the designer sort of steps back and addresses the imbalances. They look at the whole thing.
So I didn’t see this necessarily as a negative. In fact, it was a massive positive. Because I thought, well, if I can build, design next to these engineers, suddenly we get deep expertise and a balanced thinking, and importantly, particularly with the health and human performance, a view of the user.
So the technology is great. And, again, you’re always asked about what technology you’re using, and what’s the future? But actually, we never work like that.
We always work in McLaren from a point of view of, what are we trying to achieve? And actually, let’s use the least amount of technology to get there. [INAUDIBLE] it sometimes ends up being quite a lot of technology, but let’s use the most efficient way to get there.
And that normally helps things like getting into the market, the cost, batteries, data transfer, servers, all these things. If you start thinking about that, then it kind of helps you all the way. So you’re putting those two things together– engineers with deep expertise and designers really, really works.
And that’s still the same. We’ve built up the design team to around 30, 30-odd individuals looking at patient engagement, UX design, product design. But they’re sitting right next to data scientists.
You can really tell them what we can see, how to get it, how difficult it is, and the sorts of technologies that we’ll need– hardware, software, data links that you need to kind of get that information out.
So that’s really the beauty I think to put in two. And not too many people know that, actually. We don’t typically talk about it. But actually, that’s a real asset we have.
MARK SCHAEFER: And I love that. We’ve been doing this show for more than two years now. And that really seems to be one of the themes of a lot of our guests– the breakthrough innovations come through this intersection of art and computer engineering.
DUNCAN BRADLEY: Absolutely, yeah.
MARK SCHAEFER: You know, we’ve had a woman who was a goldsmith. We had a professor who is creating breakthrough technology in virtual reality who is a ballerina.
And so almost everyone we talk to, at some point there is this germ at the beginning that’s this intersection of technology and design. So that’s interesting.
MARK SCHAEFER: So I want to go back to– you just started talking a little bit about how you’re applying some of the core competencies in the automotive field to health. And I have to admit, when I was first preparing for our interview, I just didn’t get it, what the McLaren connection to health care was.
But then, when I really looked into it, I said, you’re collecting data to optimize a machine. Yes. The lights went off. Yeah. It does make sense. So could you talk a little more specifically about what kind of things that you’re working on in the health care field?
DUNCAN BRADLEY: Yeah. Actually, let’s start just with the F1 side of things a little bit. Because I can build on that, and you’ll see where that goes.
So with an F1 car, it’s an incredibly expensive thing to build, incredibly compressed time scales. And actually, regulated by testing. We’re not allowed to do very much testing. But we’re investing so much money in this thing, that you have to try and get it right.
And that’s where it sort of starts with kind of that analogy is that we want to understand the performance of the car. And then we want to know how we can use that performance for an outcome.
And by doing that, we’ve built up a lot of technology and expertise about how to model that physically. So physically modeling the car, and then using that physical model in context of an environment or context of where the car is on the track competitors.
So the underlying philosophy is there of how you design and innovate, rapidly design and innovate, using that. But also, there’s tangible technology around there. And that’s what transfers into the human performance and health care piece.
So it’s the collection of the right sorts of data from the users in the right sorts of amounts. It’s collection of the environment around you. So in health care context, that could be clinical data. It could be patient-reported outcomes. It could be your social demographic.
So the actual– although, the underpinning is it’s quite different in the first glance, actually, it’s really there. You’ve got real-time feed. You’ve got contextual information in there.
So we started to piece that together. And then, we start to move into what Formula 1 is really about, is about that prediction piece. And so we started using some of those tools and those techniques to build our product.
And one big difference between Formula 1 is that it’s kind of an experiment, almost at a race-by-race basis. And the whole season is almost a prototype. And you almost throw it away and start again. And, in fact, the whole car changes through the season.
But in this product space, or in health care, it is not that. We have to produce products that’s scalable. They have to be secure. They have to be robust. Do they test robust? So there’s a big difference there.
So we took those principles from– but actually, we had to wrap that in an architecture of software that was robust for scale. And that’s what we’ve done.
So our analytics is quite neat because it looks across a context of patient. And actually, what we call that is the patient pathway or the journey.
So everyone’s on a journey of some sort, whether you’re recovering from a disease, whether you’re training for a marathon, or trying to lose some weight, or you’re an elite performer trying to get through a season, there’s a journey there, in the same way we do a lap and in the same way we do a race season.
And our software maps to that. And then it pulls in these different sets of data. And it allows us to see where the patients are, the performers are, in their journey. And that’s great because it gives us two things.
It gives us the ability to go right down to the individual. And it allows us to pull back up and see where that individual is in context of everyone who’s like that. And that’s a powerful thing. And we can see how well the process works as well, how well that journey is working for people.
So as a business, that’s really interesting for us. Because suddenly, you start to see where you need to intervene more precisely with people. So in their care, you can put products to them in the right places. So if you’re an insurer or you’re health care, you start to see where they go off track. And you can bring them in quicker.
Now, that’s all fueled by more and more people are caring for themselves, or will be required to care for themselves outside of hospital. And that’s where the data piece comes in with sensors. Because we can populate that model with rich, real-time data from actually your lifestyle.
So we kind of feed it all. And that’s almost the story of how you go from Formula 1 into software products that have really massive benefit for people. That’s the sort of– that’s really what we’re doing.
MARK SCHAEFER: Do you see an opportunity that this could eventually migrate all the way down to the patient? Will there be like a McLaren app or something?
DUNCAN BRADLEY: Yeah. So our model’s only B2B. Because whilst we have some smart technology around analytics tools and device design and all those kind of things we talked about earlier, what we don’t have is scale.
And we know to build these things so they can reach a number of people, we need actually people like Dell and other people to actually build the systems around it for us. But we built it so it plugs into a system. So our business model is B2B.
And then occasionally, there is a piece of McLaren, which is the brand, which inspires people. It doesn’t work all of the time. But it works some of the time. So if we can inspire people to be on a McLaren [INAUDIBLE] program, because you get the engagement and the stickiness in the product, then we’ll use it.
But probably we’ll sit a little bit back and deliver that into people who actually are experts in that field of delivering that into the care systems. And it’s quite complicated when you get into payments and insurance. And that’s different all around the world. So we need that help, really.
DOUGLAS KARR: How do your customers engage with you? I’m curious. Do they hand you a problem, and then you guys innovate? Or is this a long-term partnership where you’re really kind of embedded with these companies?
DUNCAN BRADLEY: Yeah. So back when we started about 10 years ago, we were very much, to use a blunt term, a consultancy, where people would come with a brief. And we’d try to put some of our expertise.
As we’ve moved through the years, we started working with partnerships. So with GSK, we had a long partnership. And where it was still kind of a brief, but it was more of a working as a team together with them on a number of things that push GSKs forward.
Where we are now, is we’ve transitioned fully into our own product development. So now, we go into companies with the value proposition and the things that we can achieve with our technologies, with a view to their market challenges as well.
So it’s kind of done the full circle. We’ve gone from receiving briefs right through now to actually, here’s what we can do with you. And looking to partner to get that scalability.
DOUGLAS KARR: And I’m a total geek. So I totally see the human computer interaction and technology and real-time data and everything else.
But I’m curious, when you guys approached the health care industry, did that light turn on? Or were you guys seen as, well, why would we work with someone that was predominantly in the motorsports field?
DUNCAN BRADLEY: Yeah, so we’ve had to build credibility. It’s taken a number of years. But we’ve had to build credibility at a regulated level.
So through the years, we’ve been managing diseases– ALS, stroke, clinical trials, weight loss programs. We’ve really gone deep into delivering regulated health care. And with that becomes a lot of rigor.
So that that’s helped us to build confidence in the companies that we’re talking to that we can actually do this, and it isn’t a piece of software that’s just kind of out there somewhere. So that’s helped a lot.
Then there’s, again, there’s that brand side. And it’s– after you get over that, do we have the credibility and the experience and the expertise to deliver this?
It becomes quite nice for us because we are actually seen as a little bit of a step back from the traditional, maybe some of the traditional technology companies in this space. And we’re doing it because we really want to do it. And we want to share it with everyone.
So we’re often seen as a kind of a bit of a fresh approach to this sometimes. And actually sitting back from the industry gives just a different sort of angle to it. And we don’t really come with any kind of ax to grind. We genuinely want to get this software out there.
And then, there’s kind of the uniqueness to it, the exclusivity around some of the partners people like. It’s kind of a place to come that is a little bit under the radar sometimes. [INAUDIBLE] it’s really to know so many great people.
So we tend to build those partnerships around a little bit of exclusivity, a little bit of partnership, but based on some credible work that we can really point to.
MARK SCHAEFER: Again, it kind of points to the advantage of having the background in design, to have that fresh set of eyes on a problem like that.
DUNCAN BRADLEY: Absolutely. Yeah.
MARK SCHAEFER: Very interesting. You mentioned earlier that you rely on partners to really help you get there. And when I was preparing for our interview today, I noted that you’re using a wide array of different Dell technologies, including internet of things.
Could you talk about how you partner with Dell– how you use some of their specific technologies to make your dreams come true on the commercial front?
DUNCAN BRADLEY: Yes. So at the moment, the relationship has been purely hardware-driven, giving us some extra power on hardware. But I think what we really want to do is kind of build some of these use cases out together. So we’re just talking now about how we go forward with that.
And it just comes back to that thing, is we’re kind of sitting on two bits of technology– two technology companies here. It just comes back to we need to join together and look at a use case and something that will add value to society in some sort of way.
So we’re now searching for that. And then we’ll go back, and then build out the technology to support that piece. So definitely interested in doing something in the future. But we haven’t got anything off the ground right now, but we’re talking about it.
MARK SCHAEFER: Well, you mentioned that one of the things that you’re good at is kind of looking two to three years in the future. So as you’re having these discussions with Dell, what sort of things are you kind of dreaming about right now?
DUNCAN BRADLEY: Yeah. So I think this is a space– health care and human performance at the moment is really on a pivot at the moment. It’s like, we can collect so much stuff from our bodies at the moment [INAUDIBLE], quite frankly probably more than we understand.
And so we’re just on a crest of something great, I believe. So that window I feel is quite short, actually. Because it’s moving so fast.
So I think it’s just taking a next step on getting these technologies into the marketplace and with people that they can start to feel comfortable about, then we can just show that benefit.
You’ve got so many technologies. You’ll have 5G, you’ll have– [INAUDIBLE] it’s on us, right? We– kind of, that’s here.
You think about now the amount of information you can get from people. They’re going to need analytics and real-time processing to process that. So that’s already quite a big thing to onboard. And it’s kind of on us.
So you can sort of see that whilst there’s a big future of it, it’s actually not that easy to see very far in the future. So just coming back to what would be a great project, it would be to use this– actually, to quote another one of our leadership I think, we’re not on cutting edge, we’re on bleeding edge.
And I think Jonathan Neale, give him credit for that. I think I heard him say that. But we’re just on the bleeding edge. And it’s that.
We’ve just really got to show really tangible value on this stuff– a lot of people talking about it, the direction, the market is going that way. But actually, let’s just really show something. And that’s what we want to do.
And I think that would be a good, sensible, realistic step. Find a use case. Let’s plug this technology together. Let’s really show the world about how you can do this, how you can show some really great benefit.
MARK SCHAEFER: Yeah. It’s really so amazing to me how business has progressed this way. I mean, when I was growing up in business it’s like, you made something and you sold it.
And today, what I’m hearing is that you have a problem, a use case. And you’re trying to find, all right, how do we partner in every way to bring that to life? It’s really cool.
DUNCAN BRADLEY: It’s very smart.
MARK SCHAEFER: And you have to do that with technology. It has to be looking at, what’s the use case? What’s the use case? And then, we’ll build the products to make our dreams come true.
DUNCAN BRADLEY: Yeah. I just go back to something I said earlier, which is, maybe there are other industries like this. But at the moment, we’ve got the ability to gain more data from our bodies than we actually understand. I’m not sure there are too many other industries that are like that.
And so the technology is actually pulling. It’s not pushing. And it’s all based around the insight pieces. It’s why we’re so interested in the analytic space. Because we actually can collect a lot of data. And it’s, OK, there are some issues with connecting up and consent and things which can be solved.
But it’s actually, how do you make sense of the data? And how do you drive insight out of it? Because actually, the technology’s there.
OK. It’ll get a bit smaller, or it will look a bit cooler. But it’s there. You can see that. So that’s why we’re so interested in the insight bit rather than necessarily the device bit.
DOUGLAS KARR: And companies nowadays– and that’s accelerating, right? I mean, the need to innovate is becoming an absolutely critical element of all companies nowadays.
And I think what’s fascinating to me, as you said, that you are on the bleeding edge. But McLaren Applied Technologies has actually created a framework and a process for this. Can you speak to the innovation framework and the fact that you guys publicly talk about how you can do that?
DUNCAN BRADLEY: Yeah. So the innovation framework was actually built there to do a few things. It was to create an innovation process, but also to try and inspire our employees to actually build some of these ideas themselves.
So like any company, we have a lot of bright people and a lot of good ideas come out. But we need a mechanism to do that. So innovation framework is really built to be able to provide people the process to come within that.
Now, in some ways, it kind of goes completely off. You get a lot of random ideas. But you have just a little bit of control around actually, look, we’re really interested in these core technologies because actually, these are the ones that we’ve invested in as a company.
But actually, if you could understand what they can do, please go away and think about some really smart ideas to put that into practice. And then, if that’s a good idea, we can give you some funding, and we can get you to work on it. And you can access parts of the company to build something.
I was always keen. And it ended up, again, being something tangible. So even if it wasn’t fully working in the clinical trials or something, I always wanted people to come back with something tangible.
Even if it was, OK, I’ve drawn out the system diagram of how this thing will work. If I take that and that and that, and I put together that, I think I can do this.
So I always was keen for it to be a tangible thing and trying to get people to think about come back with something that you can sort of really speak about, even though maybe it might be a few years, or take hundreds of millions of pounds to develop it. So that was the innovation framework.
MARK SCHAEFER: Duncan, our time has just flown by. It’s been so much fun talking to you. But I wanted to– I had to pick up on something.
Because I know whenever you gave us some information to prepare for the show, you talked about that you’ve participated in the Megavalanche mountain bike race.
I’m a former mountain bike enthusiast. I sort of crashed my way out of the sport. And I want to encourage all of our listeners, go onto YouTube and look this up– Megavalanche mountain bike race.
So I watched this thing, and it’s absolutely crazy. There’s like 300 riders colliding down a mountain. And so did you finish the thing?
DUNCAN BRADLEY: I did. I’ve done it twice. And it’s always a crazy event. So I finished. Yeah. I finished– I think there’s about 3,000 people or something like that do it. And first time I did it, I finished 110th overall.
And then, they changed the format a little bit. And the second time I did it, it was quite a funny story. Because you have to qualify. And when I qualified, someone crashed into me and took all my chain off. So I did the qualifying without a chain. So I couldn’t peddle.
So I got like– I was way back, like 95th. And that put me on the grid 270th in my race. But the great thing was is I put my earphones on, and I was pretty relaxed. I was like, I’m so far back here now. I’m just going to enjoy it. I ended coming in 20th in that race.
DOUGLAS KARR: Oh, fantastic.
DUNCAN BRADLEY: Because I was totally relaxed. And I was just really in a mindset. But on a more serious note, genuinely, this race has stretched my mind because standing over the top of a black run on a ski slope on a mountain bike with all these jumps, you kind of– you can’t go back.
And so I really stretched my mind, and really kind of made me think of my feat. And actually, yeah, it genuinely has helped me. It wasn’t just a story. It really has helped me with on the fit thinking, how you manage risk, processing it quickly.
MARK SCHAEFER: I’m sure there’s lots of people out there thinking, gee, maybe I should do that. No. No. No. No. No. No. And I don’t want to be responsible for that.
So I really don’t want you to be inspired by Duncan at all, everybody out there. This is a singular thing. And we’re not– maybe we should have a legal disclaimer at the end here.
DOUGLAS KARR: I love how when you explained the race you didn’t just say what place. You said if you finished. Those are the [INAUDIBLE]
MARK SCHAEFER: I watched the video thinking, it’s survival. It’s literally survival. So anyway, Duncan, what a lot of fun it’s been talking to you. We certainly appreciate it. And we’re big fans of McLaren, of course.
And we appreciate all of you. Thank you so much for listening. We never take you for granted. We appreciate all your kind comments and for subscribing to our Luminaries Podcast.
This is Mark Schaefer. And on behalf of Doug Karr, thanks so much for listening. We’ll see you next time on Luminaries.
Luminaries– talking to the brightest minds in tech, a podcast series from Dell Technologies.