In the four years since the London 2012 Olympic Games, technology has continued to transform everyday life at a breathtaking pace. At Rio 2016, Olympians and the Game Organisers have harnessed technology innovations to enhance their performance and make the spectator experience more exciting than ever before.
Virtual Reality, Instant Video Reviews, and underwater digital lap counters were some the tech innovations that were used to transform the athlete and spectator experience at the Rio 2016 Olympics Games.
We’ve taken a closer look at these technologies and tasked the DOers here at the Oval to rate 10 tech innovations that were used in the RIO 2016 Olympics.
The subjective ratings are based on:
- Innovation/Novelty – Fresh unique ideas or leapfrog improvements in sporting tech.
- Fairness/Equity – How beneficial the tech is in aiding the athletes compete better or makes more level, the playing field for competing athletes.
- Spectator Experience – How engaging or connectedness the technology was/had for the participating audience present or over digital channels.
#10. Nike AeroBlades
Since the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Nike has been outfitting track and field athletes with gear designed to make them more aerodynamic. This year in Rio, the company’s solution is, of all things, spiky tape.
Nike’s Sports Research Lab has long been developing texturized gear for runners to help them reduce drag, but its newest invention is AeroBlades, which has made their first Olympic appearance in Rio. Nike’s AeroBlades are “formed nodes” that look like tiny hooks or spikes and reduce wind resistance by influencing the movement of air around athletes. The sports brand has produced leg and arm sleeves covered in AeroBlades, along with adhesive patches.
To test the drag-reducing performance and determine where patches should be placed on the body, Nike stuck AeroBlades to mannequins and placed them in a wind tunnel. They were then able to develop placement instructions for athletes, from sprinters to marathon runners, with the goal of helping them cross the finish line faster.
- Novelty/Innovation: 7.7
- Fairness/Equity: 6.4
- Spectator Experience: 5.6
- Overall Score: 19.7/30
#9. Visa Payment wearables
Payment company Visa has teamed up with Brazilian bank Bradesco to create an innovative bracelet that allowed spectators at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games to pay for goods and services by waving an arm over a sensor. The bracelet uses Near Field Communications (NFC) technology to enable transactions.
All 4,000 point-of-sale terminals at Olympic venues were equipped with near-field communication tech that has powered these transactions. NFC is the same type of system that powers Apple Pay and Google Pay.
In addition, Visa had provided all of the 45 Olympic and Paralympic athletes it sponsored with wearable rings which the athletes used to make purchases at the RIO 2016 Olympics games. The rings are water resistant to depths of up to 50 meters, and they don’t contain a battery or require recharging, according to Visa.
- Novelty/Innovation: 7.8
- Fairness/Equity: 7.3
- Spectator Experience: 6.3
- Overall Score: 21.4/30
#8. Getty Images curation and sharing
Getty Images has launched a new platform specially designed for the Olympics — and for the everyday user.
The Rio 2016 Olympic Games platform organized the Getty library, which contains more than 200 million images, into multiple searchable galleries. The platform also includes pages highlighting individual athletes, sports and countries, as well as an archive section featuring photos from 1896, the year of the first modern games.
A team of more than 120 Getty photographers were present in Rio, and were able to to gather more than 1.5 million images over the course of the Olympics as expected of them by Getty.
Many of them were being taken with 360-degree cameras and both overhead and underwater robotic cameras.
The images appeared live on the Getty website within two minutes from the moment of capture, according to the service. Getty has also improved the ease with which its users can share the images on social media in close to real time.
Beyond these features, Getty’s iOS and Android apps now support 360-degree images and Google Cardboard, according to Getty.
- Novelty/Innovation: 6.7
- Fairness/Equity: 8.1
- Spectator Experience: 7.5
- Overall Score: 22.3/30
#7. Canoe sprint and rowing (GPS)
GPS technology has helped fans follow the canoe sprint and rowing events in Rio in more detailed than ever before and watched the races in real time on big screens.
Thanks to GPS devices attached to every vessel, spectators were able to see key data such as speed and direction. The system was used in the test event last year at Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas in southern Rio.
“It totally changes the experience for the audience,” says Sebastián Cuattrin, rowing manager at Rio 2016. “The big screen has made it possible to see the different tactics used by different teams, in particular when there was a change of speed.
Sebastian Brendel of Germany and Isaquais Queiroz dos Santos of Brazil won gold and Silver medals respectively in the RIO 2016 Canoe Single (C1) 1000m Men Final.
- Novelty/Innovation: 7.4
- Fairness/Equity: 7.1
- Spectator Experience: 8.0
- Overall Score: 22.5/30
#6. Omega underwater lap counters
Watchmaker company Omega has been the official timekeeper for all but three of the Olympic Games since 1932, but this year, it has expanded its role beyond official data-handling.
When swimmers are racing back and forth across the pool, they often have trouble keeping track of the number of laps they’ve completed. To eliminate this distraction and replace the human officials who previously displayed numbers at the pool’s edge, Omega has developed underwater lap counters.
Installed at the bottom of each lane, the counters update every time a swimmer touches a pad on the wall. The numbers will be visible to swimmers without requiring them to look up from the pool. They’re designed solely for in-the-moment use by competitors, rather than official timekeeping for the races, Omega clarifies on its website.
Omega premiered the lap counters at the FINA World Swimming Championships in Doha, Qatar, in December 2014.
The system was used for the first time at the 2015 world championship in Kazan and at the test event for Rio 2016 in May.
In Rio, the devices have been used in the 800-meter and 1500-meter freestyle swimming events, according to Rio2016.com.
Michael Phelps took advantage of the lap counters to win silver and gold for USA in the RIO 2016 Butterfly Swimming Men’s 100m and 200m respectively.
- Novelty/Innovation: 8.7
- Fairness/Equity: 8.1
- Spectator Experience: 6.4
- Overall Score: 23.2/30
#5. Volleyball and Beach Volleyball video reviews
Rio 2016 has been the first Olympic Games in which volleyball teams were able to use video reviews to challenge a referee’s call.
A second referee was also able to use television footage to verify any challenged points. Replays were shown on the big screen in the arena while the second referee reviews the challenge, adding to the drama.
Brazil & Italy won Gold and Silver respectively in the volleyball men’s final and China & Serbia also won gold and silver in the volleyball women finals respectively.
- Novelty/Innovation: 7.6
- Fairness/Equity: 8.3
- Spectator Experience: 7.6
- Overall Score: 23.5/30
#4. Hykso punch-tracking sensors
Another mouthwatering innovative technology used in the Rio2016 Olympics Games is the punch-tracking system technology from Y Combinator startup Hykso.
Fighters place lightweight sensors under the tape on their wrists, which send data to a mobile app that counts punches and measures intensity and velocity. The app can even distinguish between the types of punches they throw.
The U.S. and Canadian boxing teams have been using Hykso’s technology during sparring and training. Previously, Boxing Canada Head Coach Daniel Trepanier had been using a manual clicker to count all of the punches. Now, he can analyze strategy, recognize previously undetectable punching patterns and help his team adjust them.
- Novelty/Innovation: 8.8
- Fairness/Equity: 8.1
- Spectator Experience: 6.9
- Overall Score: 23.8/30
#3. Archery (Electronic Scoring System)
In this most traditional of events, an electronic scoring system is replacing the referee’s judgement. While the classic paper targets may look the same, in reality they are now only the visible face of a high-technology sensor system that will transform the spectator experience of the sport.
The new system identifies the exact point of the arrow in the target within an accuracy of 0.2mm, much more precise than the human eye is capable of. The score is displayed on the screen just one second after the arrow hits the target.
To add to the tension, spectators in Rio were also be able to monitor athletes’ heart rates in real time.
- Novelty/Innovation: 8.4
- Fairness/Equity: 9.1
- Spectator Experience: 7.2
- Overall Score: 24.7/30
#2. Google for the Games
When you enter an Olympics-related query, Google has displayed a chart featuring a variety of information about the games at the top of your search results.
You can click through to get information about particular sports or countries, as well as find TV schedules and medal wins. In addition to the usual bio that appears in the right sidebar when you search for a person, Google has prepared special overview pages for Olympians.
If this system isn’t convenient enough, you can also register to get automatic updates through the Google mobile app.
As for Google’s other services, it’s partnered with official broadcasters for YouTube streaming in more than 60 countries. And thanks to advances in mobile live-streaming, 15 YouTube curators have also broadcasted from their phones.
To better represent Rio de Janeiro, Google Maps has added its previously absent working-class favela neighborhoods –including several businesses within them — and produced a 360-degree virtual tour of the city for people around the globe to explore.
- Novelty/Innovation: 8.1
- Fairness/Equity: 8.0
- Spectator Experience: 9.05
- Overall Score: 25.6/30
#1. Shooting (Electronic Targets)
Shooting has used electronic targets since Beijing 2008. At Rio 2016, the scoring system has been upgraded to incorporate laser technology, replacing the previous acoustic system.
Advanced technology has also helped to enhance safety at the sport. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags were attached to all guns used at Rio 2016 so that organisers knew where every weapon is at any given time.
- Novelty/Innovation: 7.9
- Fairness/Equity: 8.9
- Spectator Experience: 9.0
- Overall Score: 25.8/30