Rio Olympics 2016: A Parade of Exciting Tech Innovations

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The Rio Olympics is considered the most technologically advanced Olympic games till date. The entire globe turned its focus to this fortnight’s event that not just celebrated fantastic athletic competition, but also gave innovators an opportunity to showcase brilliant technologies that enhanced the experience of players, spectators and refereeing officials like never before.

From Virtual Reality, Video Reviews, GPS, Underwater Digital Lap Counters to state-of-the-art security and data broadcast technologies, let’s take a look at a few innovations which made it big in Rio this year.

Tocha Olimpica – Rio’s innovative Olympic torch

The flame of innovation touched the games even before it officially started with the famous Olympic torch, which travels the world before lighting the fire that announces the commencement of the event. This year’s Tocha Olímpica, which is Rio’s version of the Olympic torch, is considered a mark ahead of its predecessors. The torch was designed by Chelles & Hayashi, a Sao Paulo-based design firm, and has multiple movable segments which expand vertically whenever the flame is exchanged between torchbearers. This movement unveils resin surfaces underneath to display colors inspired by the Brazilian national flag, natural diversity surrounding Rio and energy of the Brazilian countrymen.

This innovative design features built-in cameras that filmed the torch’s journey. Further, to ease torch bearing in the forthcoming Paralympic games, the center of gravity was located on the lower third segment of the torch making it easier to hold while seated on a wheelchair. The handle also included Braille writing to aid blind torchbearers. The technology behind the Olympic torch flame can be referenced from the patent US 6,733,282 B2 filed for the 2002 Olympic torch by Coleman Company.

Wind cutters for athletes

In June this year, Nike unveiled three new innovations for Olympic track and field athletes. The first among the innovations is an adhesive tape with silicon-based spikes called AeroBlades that help cut wind resistance or aerodynamic drag offering track athletes more aerodynamism. AeroBlades made their first Olympic appearance in Rio this year with Nike arriving at a blade shape using 3-D printing technology. Another innovation comprises a breathable, adhesive race bib called the AeroSwift Bib that can be stuck onto the uniform. AeroSwift fabrics hug legs and forearms better to reduce wind resistance and drag. U.S. Patent No. 8745769, titled “Apparel with Reduced Drag Coefficient” issued to Nike in 2014 describes a similar structure and could be the technology behind this product. Notably, Nike, Inc. owns over 4,000 patents till date. Another innovation was the new Nike Wing performance-enhancing sunglasses, which also cuts through the wind.

Digital counting under water

Omega Watches, the official timekeeper of the Olympics, introduced its patented device – an underwater digital lap counter – for swimmers to keep track of their laps. These digital waterproof lap counters were fixed to the bottom of each lane near the turning point. When a swimmer hit the touchpad on the wall, the device automatically displayed the lap count. First used in 2015, these counters were designed to replace hand held placards. Some patents related to underwater lap counters include US 7,358,456, US 7,184,370 and US 8,472,285

Patent US 8,472,285 and Entrepreneur Media

Sources:  Entrepreneur Media & Patent US 8,472,285

Count the punches

In an innovative step to move away from subjective decision making towards a more objective and inclusive system, the 2012 London Olympics saw the debut of the Protective Scoring System (PSS) provided by Daedo. This system registers and measures the impact of strikes using a series of sensors fitted in the body armour. This year’s Olympics saw the PSS also incorporate sensors located in the padded headgear of a Taekwondo combatant. US patent 8,021, 281filed in March 2010 by Nedsyp Nominees describes a similar electronic scoring system for use in a variety of martial arts. Similarly, punch-tracking sensors, provided by Hykso, were used in Rio’s boxing events.

No suspense in target hits

A new electronic scoring system was introduced by Omega that replaced the referee’s judgment in this year’s archery contest. The classic paper targets that still look the same have now been backed by a high-tech sensor system which identifies the exact point of the arrow within an accuracy of 0.2mm. The new scoring system takes a lot of suspense out of the scoring process and enhances viewers’ experience as an archer’s score is updated and displayed within one second of an arrow hitting the target. Some important U.S patents that have described electronic scoring systems for use in archery include US20140151965A1 and US 8,764,016.

Shooting lasers

Rio’s Olympic 2016 saw an upgraded scoring system for shooting contests with laser technology replacing the older acoustic system. Further, all guns were marked with radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to help organizers track the exact location of the weapons at all times, ensuring safety.

Solos Augmented Reality Smart Glasses – Cycling

Cyclists earned the perfect boost during the Olympics 2016 with augmented reality smart glasses from Solos. This pair of aerodynamic shades displayed stats such as cadence, heart rate, speed, distance, duration etc. in real time, superimposing it over the road ahead. This must have been extremely handy for cyclists who could check their vital signs and boost their performance mid-ride. Solos also provided an option to deliver this information through an audio feed.

Source: Solos

Source: Solos

Augmented Reality based head mounted displays, including glasses, have been disclosed in several patents till date. One exemplary related patent is US patent 8,947,323, titled “Content Display Methods” granted in Feb 2015 to Google, Inc. On a more commercial note, connections to a mobile interface can enable users of these glasses to make phone calls on the go.

Innovation For Spectators and Organizers

Heavy duty cheering for heavyweights

Apart from inventions designed to enhance the quality and fairness of athletic competition, many innovations have also been introduced to enhance the audience experience. One such spectator technology was the use of a camera – Dolly – which gave weightlifting fans a new perspective. The camera was fitted on a wheeled cart for smooth movements, capturing multiple angles of weightlifters in order to paint a fuller picture of the body mechanics. Also, to track canoe events in detail, GPS sensors were mounted onto boats which could track not only a canoe’s position but also its speed and direction, display the races real time on big screens.

Visa Payment NFC based Wearable Technology

Payment company Visa partnered with a Brazilian bank to launch an innovative bracelet that users in Rio 2016 could use like a contactless payment card to pay for goods and services using Near Field Communications (NFC) technology. All 4,000 point-of-sale terminals at the Olympic venues were equipped to work with NFC. Visa also introduced another NFC device at Rio, a payment ring backed by a Visa account. The rings were given to all of the 45 athletes sponsored by the company at the Games. It does not require use of a battery or recharging and is also water resistant to a depth of 50 metres. Visa has multiple patents protecting its wireless contactless payment systems. Some exemplary patents include US 8,127,999 and US20150327071.

360-degree Virtual Reality (VR) Broadcast

For the first time in history, the Olympics events were available in virtual reality, giving an up-close 360-degree viewing experience! The BBC was streaming 100 hours of 360-degree video through the BBC Sport 360 app for iOS, Android, and Samsung’s Gear VR headset. By strapping on VR headsets users were able to experience the games in a completely new way. It was the first time the BBC had broadcasted a live sport in VR, through their experimental app. In its official figures the BBC suggests there were one million views[1] of 360 streamed and on-demand output, which included the beach volleyball, boxing, and the opening and closing ceremonies.

In the US, NBC was showing 100 hours of VR and 360 video programming using its new Sports app. Using the Samsung Gear and a Samsung phone, users were able to watch VR version of the events.

Comcast Broadcast Innovations Built on Cisco Networks

The Rio Olympics was also considered a good testing ground for broadcast innovations developed by American mass media company Comcast that broadcasted more than 6,000 hours of footage from this year’s Olympics. At least 4,500 hours of this broadcast was made available through its NBC Sports Live Extra app and its Xfinity X1 interactive on-demand TV service.

One of the many patents owned by Comcast and its subsidiaries for interactive TV services is US patent 9,363,560, titled “System and Method for Construction, Delivery and Display of iTV Applications that Blend Programming Information of On-Demand and Broadcast Service Offerings”. Comcast used Cisco’s networking services for round-the-clock video distribution. Cisco also planned to promote its networking services in Rio with support from its Rio-based Internet of Everything (IoE) Innovation Center to provide city-wide Wi-Fi services and location analytics among other smart city services. Cisco has been a chief contributor in research related to cloud-based network provisioning, an exemplary recent patent being US patent 9,392,050, titled “Automatic Configuration of External Services Based Upon Network Activity”.

ImageSat International Satellite Imagery Security

The prime concern surrounding any large scale event, especially the Olympics, can be summed up in one word – Security. The Olympics Committee had not left any stone unturned to ensure maximum security at the event. Apart from security at ground, security systems were also stationed outside the Earth’s atmosphere. The Eros-B satellite, owned and operated by Israeli based commercial satellite imagery company ImageSat International, provided detailed inspections during the Olympic Games. The Eros-B has been in low Earth orbit since 2006, captures high-resolution images of up to one and a half feet in an area of approximately 31 miles, and helped in identifying people, cars and even goods during the games. Previously, the Eros-B has been used for disaster, urban, maritime and military monitoring.

Logos surveillance balloons

Source: TechInsider

Source: TechInsider

To keep the event further safe, Rio deployed Logos Technologies to provide aerial surveillance. The technology originally developed for the U.S. Department of Defense saw its first large-scale commercial application in Rio. Logos installed four 40-pound balloons, tethered to the ground, each with 13 high-resolution cameras mounted on them. The cameras could capture three photos per second of the surrounding area, with each balloon covering about 55 square miles. While the cameras lack facial recognition technology, the system could archive video so operators can retrace a suspicious person’s path.

Atos Cloud-hosted Portals  – Green Technology

The technology running behind the scenes also saw pleasant innovations. Core operations supporting key aspects of the Games were hosted for the first time ever on the cloud. According to the official IT partner for the Games, Atos, using the cloud hosting model helps reduces the need for servers and minimizes the overall carbon footprint. For comparison, while at London Olympics 2012, Atos used 719 servers, the number fell to 250 in Rio. Cloud computing platform provided the much-needed scalability, robustness and availability that is required to cover an event of such magnitude, with simultaneous coverage by media of all kinds, including online, Television, radio, etc.

Under Armour 3D-Printed Shoes for Olympics Hero Michael Phelps

Source: 3printr

Source: 3printr

Prior to the Rio games, Under Armour presented Phelps with the Architech – a pair of first-ever commercially available 3D-printed sneakers, customized for the star athlete. The custom shoes feature its 3D-printed midsole technology, which was first debuted by Under Armour earlier this year. As an added touch of class, the footprint of Phelps’ infant son, Boomer, had been printed on the insole. Apart from augmenting the competitive spirit of the World Champion Swimmer, this was also an opportunity for the company to create a buzz around the brand. Both Under Armour, Inc and Nike own patents on 3D printed shoes, for instance US 9,320,316 and US 9,005,710 respectively.

Other major innovative stints that captured attention this year include Omega Cameras Photofinish Technology, Getty Images Virtual Reality Group, Video replay system, Flextronics Illuminated Blazer, to name a few. As major innovators continue to create and patent sports technologies that improve athletes’ experiences, consumers will also benefit from these inventions. Strong patent law will continue to ensure that the companies will continue to be motivated to invest and create these innovations that benefit the masses.

(Featured image source: https://pixabay.com/en/rio-de-janeiro-2016-brazil-1177950/)

Subhasri Das
Subhasri Das

Subhasri is a technocrat who enjoys reading between the lines of patents to understand their hidden value.


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