Tokyo Summer Olympics: What are the hottest tech innovations?

Tokyo Summer Olympics: What are the hottest tech innovations?

By Julie Butler

The Covid-delayed 2020 Summer Olympics are finally underway in Tokyo; and thanks to Olympics technology innovations ranging from light show drones to athletic performance biometrics and sports training wearables to 3D and other immersive broadcasting enhancements, the Tokyo Games are delivering all the pageantry and drama that’s expected of the world’s premier sporting event in vivid detail. Here, we highlight some of the technologies that are making the Tokyo Summer Olympics one of the most high-tech sporting events to date.

Intel’s drone light show:

Intel drones lit up the night sky for the opening ceremony of the 2020 Olympics, as they previously did in the 2018 Winter Olympics. This time, the display took on special meaning, with a theme of “stronger together” and hope for the future.

The fleet of 1,824 small Intel Premium drones that took to the skies are designed for entertainment. Each drone weighs less than 3/4ths of a pound and is equipped with four bright, colored LEDs, along with a real-time kinematic GPS system that enables the high level of positional accuracy needed to create the display’s complex 3D animations.

Toyota’s service robots:

The Tokyo 2020 Robot Project’s mission was to highlight the usefulness of robotics by deploying support robots at the Olympic Games for tasks such as welcoming athletes and spectators to sports venues, carrying out tasks on the field, and facilitating 360-degree camera technologies for delivering immersive experiences that couldn’t be pulled off using human operators alone. Due to the pandemic, the usefulness of robotics at the 2020 Olympics has expanded to helping reduce contact between people at the events.

Robots built by Toyota are carrying out these roles. For example, AI-powered self-driving field support robots equipped with sensors and cameras are being used to determine the optimal path for retrieving a thrown javelin and provide guidance to staff to help them avoid obstacles and increase efficiency. The company has also supplied a range of human support robots and delivery support robots to assist spectators.

The coolest technologies being implemented the 2020 Summer OlympicsToyota Field Support Robot. Image source: International Olympics Committee

Intel’s 3D athlete tracking technology:

In a long-term partnership with the Olympics, Intel is providing numerous other cutting-edge innovations to the 2020 Summer Olympics, in addition to the robot light show, to help bring the spectator experience to a new level. One of the most interesting of these new techs is 3D Athlete Tracking (3DAT), which provides viewers with next-gen graphics presenting overlay visualizations during select track and field events. 3DAT leverages artificial intelligence, computer vision, and the speed of Intel Xeon processors to rapidly extract and analyze performance data such as runner speeds at different points in the race. One of the major advantages of 3DAT is that it uses standard video data, thus eliminating the need for special suits and sensors.

This and other AI-powered performance tracking technologies being used to enhance the viewer experience during the games are valuable tools for both broadcasting and training, to help improve athletic performance and prevent injuries.

OBS’ pioneering broadcasting technology:

Spectators may not be able to experience the Olympic events in person, but they will be treated to the most technically advanced and data-rich broadcast of the games to date. The Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) is broadcasting the 2020 Olympics not just in high definition, but largely in ultra-high definition high dynamic range. OBS’ new technology brings enhanced audio, captured by 3,600 microphones, as well as more life-like visuals.

Another broadcasting innovation OBS is debuting is virtual 3D graphics for sports climbing, which is likewise a first at the Tokyo games. To help introduce this new Olympic sport, OBS created a virtual 3D model of the climbing wall that enables detailed analysis of the shapes and angles that the climbers are navigating. Other advantages are virtual zooming capabilities for close-ups, as well as wider-angle shots to convey the climbing wall’s challenges in their entirety.

OBS is also premiering a multi-camera replay system developed by Intel consisting of remotely controlled 4K cameras mounted on robotic platforms stationed at select sports venues such as gymnastics and skateboarding. This novel technology enables the rapid preparation of clips that can be manipulated to create an effect similar to the action sequences in The Matrix.

Other debut broadcasting technologies include the OBS Cloud (in partnership with Alibaba) and 110 hours of live stereoscopic and panoramic coverage. Additionally, OBS technology trials include 5G broadcasting as well as AI capabilities such as speech-to-text technology and image recognition.

Panasonic’s contactless vital sensing:

Panasonic’s contactless biometric data display technology provides live heart rate monitoring of archers by focusing on their faces. Cameras can capture slight changes in skin color caused by blood vessel contractions that are invisible to the naked eye. This data is extracted using signal processing and analyzed, revealing the inner workings of the archers’ bodies as they experience heartbeat variations and the adrenaline rush of going for the gold at the Olympics.

Omega tracking and timing:

Swiss watchmaker Omega is another company providing athlete tracking data. As the official timekeeper of the Olympic Games, Omega Timing is using camera technologies, small sensors attached to the competitors’ clothing, and artificial intelligence to collect and analyze all kinds of performance data during the live events that can be used for both judging the competitions and for training.

For sports including beach volleyball, swimming, gymnastics, and bicycle road racing, the company is introducing enhanced AI-trained systems consisting of cameras running at 250 frames per second that are equipped with positioning and motion sensors to provide detailed tracking data. These systems must take less than 1/10th of a second to measure, process, and transmit the data to ensure that it matches up with what viewers are seeing. For example, according to Omega Timing CEO Alain Zobrist, the AI has to be trained to know how to keep track of the ball in beach volleyball in order to be able to track which player on which team is making each shot.

Omega also provides timing technologies like starting blocks featuring built-in sensors and loudspeakers that are linked to the starting pistol to ensure that all contestants hear the start signal at exactly the same time, as well as the Scan’O’Vision Myria Camera, which offers photo-finish precision by recording up to 10,000 digital images per second.

TrackMan object movement tracking:

Sports data collection has become a major aspect of athlete training across the globe. For Olympic sports golf and shot put, TrackMan object movement tracking technology is being used to obtain a wealth of information, such as ball speed, spin, launch angle, path curve, and apex, that can help athletes improve their game.

Hypoxico altitude training center:

At the US Olympic Committee’s flagship training center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, athletes used a high tech training room that simulated the climate of Tokyo to prepare their bodies for the environment they would be competing in. The center’s Hypoxico altitude and environmental chamber also allows trainers to adjust fluid intake, build feeding strategies, and develop other physiological methodologies to support the athletes, with the help of tools like radar technology and data analysis.

High-tech brain training:

Another aspect of Team USA’s training has been mental preparation, using technologies such as EEG sensors to find out how changes in an athlete’s brain waves can affect outcomes. If the brain wave monitoring indicates that an intervention is needed, a meditation app can be used to help athletes calm and focus their minds for top performance. 

Another technology being used is a brain training wearable called Focus Calm that gives competitors an edge by building neural pathways and neuroplasticity so they become elite athletes mentally.

Speedo’s Fastskin swimsuit

Speedo’s US Federation Suits are inspired by sharks. In cooperation with such partners as London’s Natural History Museum and several leading research institutes, Speedo studied the hydrodynamics of sharkskin to produce swimsuits that have been consistently helping athletes churn out world records and competitive wins since the line was launched in 2019.

Two new Fastskin suits are being worn in Tokyo. The Fastskin LZR Pure Intent debuts three new fabrics that are positioned to provide compression, flexibility, and drag reduction where needed, while the Fastskin LZR Pure Valor represents the company’s most lightweight technical swimsuit and is built for comfort as well as speed.

2020 summer olympics technologiesSpeedo’s US Federation Fastskin Swimsuit.
Image source: Speedo USA Press Release

Anta Sports’ Team China uniforms:

Anta Sports, which has been working with the Chinese Olympic Committee to design competition sportswear for 16 years, has created uniforms for Team China’s 2020 Olympic athletes that make use of high-quality materials and advanced technologies.

For example, Anta’s Olympic weightlifting shoes are designed to enhance mobility, increase overall stability, and provide feedback when moving weights of more than a ton. A unique raised heel made of thermoplastic polyurethane is designed to help lifters maintain the correct form, while their rigid, incompressible soles support stability during moves such as snatches and overhead squats. The weightlifters’ clothing is also specifically designed for this sport by incorporating technologies to provide waist support and prevent muscle strain.

For the Chinese wrestling team, uniforms feature anti-grab fabric technology. For gymnasts, the outfits are tailored to protect the athletes’ bodies from air resistance and injuries that could occur due to movements such as high-intensity aerial acrobatics. And Team China’s running shoes incorporate a breathable upper membrane and for the midsoles, Anta’s proprietary Flashfoam, which is shaped to distribute landing impact while maximizing traction and stability.

Ralph Lauren’s cooling technology:

Whereas Ralph Lauren, an official outfitter of Team USA since 2008, provided jackets containing heat components to athletes for the 2018 Winter Olympics, Tokyo’s blistering hot and humid summer climate inspired the company to develop a wearable technology called RL Cooling. The US Olympic team flag bearers kept cool during the opening ceremony parades by sporting uniforms incorporating this technology, which is a self-regulating cooling device that monitors and optimizes temperature, dispersing heat from the skin.

Ralph Lauren boasts that RL Cooling is at the forefront of the burgeoning field of personal thermal management systems, pointing to research by the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy suggesting that these systems have “the potential to reduce the reliance on mass energy-intensive cooling systems, like HVAC systems, for personal comfort.”

Featured image by Dick Thomas Johnson – CC BY 2.0

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