The Technology Podium: Winning Gold at the Next-gen Olympics

Posted by Mike Fitch on Aug 13, 2021

The Games of the XXXII Olympiad couldn’t be further from what we’ve come to expect every four years (for starters, it’s been five years since the last Olympics…). The Tokyo 2020 Olympics have faced an uphill battle for a myriad of reasons, primarily due to the global pandemic causing significant delays (postponed a full year) and necessary adjustments (no spectators, including family) just to make the Games happen.


However, Herculean efforts have ensured that the show goes on and the most talented, athletic individuals on the planet have been able to put on a display of their hard work, perseverance and dedication to their craft. Without spectators, there has been an increased focus on not just the athletes themselves, but also the advancements in technology not previously found at other Games. We’ve scoped out the top three technologies highlighted at Tokyo 2020 and in true Olympics fashion, placed a metaphorical medal around their metaphorical necks.


Bronze: Autonomous Features in the Olympic Village


Japan is already one of the world’s most autonomous nations, and the Olympic Village is putting it all on display for athletes. While the Olympic Village experience won’t be quite the same due to pandemic precautions, they can expect to see new technologies to enhance their time in Tokyo:

Autonomous taxis: Getting from place to place is an absolute breeze through the inter-village autonomous taxi system. The e-Palette electric autonomous vehicle will shuttle up to 20 athletes and officials between the Olympic Village and their venues. Toyota is rolling out roughly 3,700 vehicles and mobility products, including 20 primary buses, to transport individuals during the Olympics.


Instant language translation: With more than 200 nations represented within the Olympic Village, interpretation and translation services are essential for communication between athletes, coaches, trainers, volunteers, staff and officials. While French and English are listed as the two official languages of the Olympics, less than 10% of Japanese residents have the basic English skills needed to hold a conversation. Instead, robots and mobile apps will offer real-time translation to accommodate both text and voice translation in seven languages.


Facial recognition: To help speed up security, facial recognition technology developed by NEC will speed up check-in and security procedures at a 99.9% accuracy rate, even when a person is wearing a mask.


COVID-19 testing: The Olympic Village is now the “most COVID tested community in the world” with daily testing for the 11,000+ athletes to help keep the Games as safe and healthy as possible.


Silver: AI-powered Athletic Robots

The 2020 Tokyo Robot Project is committed to making this the year of the robot Olympics, starting with the robot mascot, Miraitowa. Originally reserved for spectator interactions, the focus of Miraitowa has shifted to both entertainment and usefulness with the Games themselves. Miraitowa has cameras on its head so that it can recognize nearby people and then read facial reactions. Its facial expressions can change, as well as body parts that can smoothly wave or shake hands. See the history of mascots at the Olympic Games.


video clip from halftime of the USA-France men’s basketball game went viral (currently at 4.8M+ views on Twitter) after Toyota’s 6-foot-10-inch basketball robot, CUE, drained a nothing-but-net three-pointer, only then to proceed and make a half-court shot (approximately 47 feet). CUE uses artificial intelligence and sensors to evaluate distance, angles, conditions, mechanics and past results to produce the most accurate sharpshooter in the world (sorry, Steph Curry). CUE currently holds the Guinness World Record for “most consecutive basketball free throws made by a humanoid robot” at 2,020 consecutive free throws.


CUE may be an early frontrunner to be the fan-favorite robot, but other robots will be competing to steal the crown. To help reduce the number of volunteers and staff members on-site, robots will be used for many delivery (Delivery Support Robots, or DSR) and retrieval (Field Support Robots, or FSR) tasks, including the rugby ball delivery “Tiny Bus”. In addition, retrieval bots will be used during track and field throwing events such as javelin, discus, hammer throw and shot put.


Gold: Bringing the Olympics to Remote Fans Across the Globe


With no fans, spectators or family and friends of any kind allowed in this year’s Games, there hasn’t been a more critical global event to seamlessly bring the action into people’s homes. NBC, the primary broadcast network for the Olympics in the United States, in partnership with the Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) have decades of Olympics coverage experience to back its ability to cover the Games, but never has it been this logistically challenging, with many of the control rooms off-site in Stamford, Conn. and New York City.


All the while, there is a major technical upgrade happening. After 15 years, NBC is moving from an SDI router to an IP router to better support the needs of HDR 4K ultra high-def coverage. With this upgrade also comes 5.1.4 immersive audio for at-home fans to get the most realistic acoustic experience possible.

There are 339 medal events at Tokyo 2020, which means a LOT of content. In fact, 9,500+ hours of coverage will be broadcast and streamed across 215 HD feeds back to the US. One of the new 4K camera features at this year’s Olympics is multi-camera high-speed panoramic coverage, a replay system from Intel that can give a full 360-degree angle to several sports, including basketball, gymnastics and skateboarding among others. Camera operators and directors can freeze a replay clip and manipulate the replay around the athlete to resume the replay from another camera angle, even within five seconds of the live action (Illustration: Intel True View. Courtesy of Intel Corp.)


The World Archery Federation has introduced biometric data displays for fans to see the amount of stress that an archer goes through as they line up their shot to hit the bullseye. One example of this technology showed India’s Deepika Kumari’s heart rate move from 70 beats per minute in early rounds to 140 bpm when she needed to hit a perfect 10 in the fourth round.


Additional technologies being deployed in coverage for the first time:

  • 3D athlete tracking (track and field), providing a detailed view to help fans better understand athletes’ performance through next-generation graphics.
  • True View (basketball), an Intel project that combines 35 4K cameras at the concourse level of the basketball arena to provide spectacular views and replays.
  • Virtual 3D graphics in sport climbing’s Olympic debut, which uses AR technology to give viewers a look at what it’s like to find holds and challenges on each wall
  • 2D image tracking (throughout), which relies on advanced image processing technology, will be used in place of traditional GPS technology

Japan had originally planned for a 200+ innovation expo for the 900,000+ foreign visitors to showcase cutting-edge technologies. With the pandemic, however, Japan is still putting on quite a demonstration of its technical capabilities, even from afar.


About the Author

TD Synnex Editor

Mike Fitch
Content marketer and communicator through and through. ASU grad with more than 10 years of B2B tech marketing/communications experience.