by Himeesha Dhiliwal
The COVID-19 pandemic has completed a year and a half since its outbreak and has claimed more victims than we could have ever imagined. The pandemic brought the world to a standstill, something unprecedented and even the most famous international sporting event, i.e. the Olympic Games were not spared from the effects of this pandemic. Since the inception of the Olympics in the modern era, the games have only been cancelled only 3 times in the past on account of the world wars. However, this time they have been postponed for the first time because of the pandemic. Inspite of the delayed start of the Tokyo Olympics 2020 (“Games”) , we were still able to witness the Games with some fun new additions. Apart from new events such as sports climbing being added to the Olympics, we also saw a wide range of technological advancements which were adapted in light of the social distancing requirements, a consequence of the pandemic. The Games this year, hosted a series of new technologies to ensure social distancing via exclusive assistance by the combination of artificial intelligence, 5G, virtual reality and promising technology. From robot assistance in many of the athletic events, to virtual cheers and live streaming, the Tokyo Olympics 2020 provided us with an outstanding yet sustainable display of technology since the last Olympics held in Tokyo in 1964, or any other Olympics in the history of the games.
Here, we highlight the hottest technological innovations in the sporting events till date.
In the 2018 Winter Olympics held in PyeongChang, South Korea, the organisers managed a magnificent light show with the deployment of over 1200 Intel drones. Intel in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics finessed their drone technology by multiplying the 1 LED back in 2018 to 4 HD LED lights and displayed a fleet of 1824 small Intel Premium drones which took up to the sky in a colourful array. The drones were manoeuvred to display the theme ‘stronger together’ and formed the Olympics logo with the assistance of borderless lights, well-defined technology and a real-time kinematic GPS which enabled positional accuracy. Given its ability to operate in wind blowing at 11 m/s, the 340 grams weighted drones put up a visually enchanting show for both, the offline and online viewers of the Games. Interestingly, such usage of drone technology has become popular in concerts and events like Coachella, Super Bowl, St. Patrick’s Festival in Ireland, Dubai Shopping Festival as well as the Iconsiam Launch Event in Bangkok, to have the viewers experience a wholesome event.
These drones are nothing but a representation of the unprecedented power of the advanced technology that has been developed over the years. The fleet of these unmanned aerial vehicles is controlled by one computer and lines of coding. Based on the battery life, GPS reception and Intel’s custom software, the drones are customised to suit the design volumetric shapes and dynamic animations of each unique event, creating an amazing visual experience.
Facial recognition technology is something most of us have been introduced to in terms of facial unlock on smartphones. Recently however, the same technology has been employed at sporting events like Formula 1 racing as well as the Games, where it was deployed for the first time in the history of the Olympics. The facial recognition technology was used to monitor the entry of 3,00,000 accredited people (including all members of the nation contingents, media, volunteers and staff) to ensure faster entry and tighter security with a 99.7% accuracy of such recognition. Evidently, facial recognition has grown by leaps and bounds with its usage at the Olympics as a result of modern AI technology coupled with sophisticated pattern matching abilities.
Unlike mascots of past Olympic events, this year the host country Japan took the designing of the mascot to the next step. Japan being world renowned for their robotics industry, introduced their robot mascots for the Olympics and Paralympics, namely ‘Miraitowa’ and ‘Someity’.
These robot mascots were designed in collaboration with Toyota and were programmed to recognise facial expressions allowing them to respond with appropriate nods, handshakes, greeting visitors and athletes during the events.
If you are a fan of Pixar’s award winning film and the lovable garbage collection robot ‘Wall-e’ then you must have a look at the non-fiction and upgraded Toyota’s Field Support Robots. These self-driving robots were deployed during the athletics events and were used primarily to fetch and carry the hammers and javelins thrown tens of meters down the field by the athletes.
Delivery Support Robots were an addition to the fleet of robots seen at the Olympics which were able to assist in guiding people to their seats at the Olympic stadium and carrying food items to the wheel chaired spectators. These robots were expected to serve over 1000 spectators over the course of the Olympics.
Toyota’s T-TR1 virtual mobility and telepresence robot resembles a tall vertical screen with a camera mounted on top enabled the people who were unable to experience the Olympic Games in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an opportunity to virtually view the Olympics as well as engage in a conversation across locations to experience viewing the Games together.
Lastly, the Humanoid Robot were close to giving the athletes an opportunity to have a conversation, high five after a win, thereby attempting to be as if they were truly physically present humans.
The most crucial aspect to every athlete competing at the Olympics is their form, pace, speed and performance. Intel’s piece of development hosted on Alibaba’s cloud enabled to capture a three-dimensional view of an athlete’s movements for the viewers to have a deeply analysed performance review to understand the sport better. Through this computer tracking system, 4 high resolution cameras and the deep learning algorithms pre-fed in the system enabled the athlete, coaches and viewers to gain insights on its motion, biomechanics, performance and form, thereby assisting in analysing it to improvise and improve for better individual results.
The Olympics can be considered as one of the most high stakes sporting events, not in terms of financial rewards but rather because of the pressure in representing one’s country to win the gold or a position on the podium. The Olympics are the pinnacle of international sports, where athletes of the highest caliber attend to compete in sporting and athletic talent as well as ability. The adrenaline pumping events can be a risky environment for the athletes and it is of no consequence that the Olympics take very good care of their medical preparations.
One of the medical technologies used is, Panasonic’s contactless biometric data display technology. This equipment serves as a monitoring device which provides live heart rate capturing and changes in skin colour caused by the adrenaline rush which is a result of blood vessel contractions invisible to the naked eye. Through this monitoring system an athletes health can be tracked during events so as to warn coaches and staff of any irregularities in their body constitution.
TrackMan: object movement tracking
With sports data being a core aspect of the Olympics determining the win for an athlete, the collection of information about the nuances of the sport and the athlete becomes extremely crucial. For example, the launch angle of a javelin, the speed of a shot put ball, the path curve, ball speed and apex in golf are pertinent and critical to an athlete’s training. TrackMan object movement tracking technology is the need for saviour for these sports to enhance one’s performance.
TrackMan is only Object movement tracking system in the industry. Flightscope Mevo, Sky Trak and Foresight GC Quad are other such tracking systems.
Omega was the official timekeeper for the Tokyo Olympics 2020. Using camera technologies, capturing 250 frames per second for sports such as bicycle road racing, swimming gymnastics and beach volleyball, this technology has assisted not only the athletes to train better but also the judges to decide upon the performance of the participant pivotally. With the assistance of small sensors and artificial intelligence, performance data of the participant is transmitted to the judges, spectators and the participants in 1/10th of a second. With this track and timing technology, actions that cannot be captured by the naked eye are now saved in the cloud for future references as well.
Besides Omega, Scan ‘O’ Vision Myria Camera offers photo-finish precision by recording up to 10,000 digital images per second as against the 4000 digital images per second used in the earlier Olympics, thereby capturing every required bit which cannot be comprehend by the naked eye for performance calculations.
Digital twinning technology is not novel to the Olympics and has been used earlier in sports such as Formula 1 Racing. However, with the pandemic’s presence, the experience of camera set-up by broadcasters and positioning of the athletes prior to the event is made convenient through 3D digital simulations. Digital twinning literally implies the virtual replication of an Olympic Stadium and the necessary places around for the participants to experience the location, sporting field, surroundings before they arrive at the location, i.e., Tokyo for the main event.
Digital twinning of the stadiums provides the participants with a virtual yet actual experience of the Olympic stadium at the comfort of the residential and/or practice locations across the world.
Motion Tracking: wearable technology
Since the London Olympics held in 2012, wearable fitness and motion trackers have been in usage. And similar to every other technology, the accuracy and efficiency of such devices has improved manifold over the years. These tracking systems of Intel and the Alibaba group having analytical software, enabling the coaches to train the athletes better by allowing them to track every action and movement accurately has enhanced the performance of the athletes.
Minimising Contract: self-driving vehicles
Self-driven cars have been gaining popularity especially with Elon Musk’s enhancements of Tesla. Since 2018, Toyota has unveiled its driverless e-Palette electric vehicles and the Tokyo Olympics served as one of the vehicle’s first real world applications. These self-driven electric vehicles of Toyota were commissioned to pick-up and drop contingents from the airport to the Olympic village as well as around the whole Olympic village. The goal as per Japan, is, “To set up a foundation for the next-gen public transport network, minimise road fatalities and avoid traffic congestion.”
AI gadget: heatstroke prevention
With the temperatures in Tokyo being over 30 degrees Celsius not to mention with the humidity, the Alibaba group deployed a cloud-based system to monitor the real-time conditions, i.e., heart rate and body temperature of the staff and workers at the Olympic games.
The AI gives timely warnings and advice, to prevent people from collapsing from heat stroke.
Broadcasting: Live Streaming
Lastly, the thrill and experience of watching the Olympics from the comfort of our homes would not have been complete without the Olympic Broadcasting Services in consonance with the Alibaba Cloud. This service minimised cost and boosted efficiency, while simultaneously providing real-time analysis to its viewers to get an in-person experience of the Olympics to the millions of users across the world.
Tokyo Olympics indeed was a tech show worth a watch.
 The world’s leading semiconductor chip manufacturer.
 Light emitting diode
 High definition
 Global Positioning System
About the Author
Himeesha Dhiliwal is currently pursuing a law degree from Jindal Global Law School.