Beijing Olympic tech round up

by David Spark on August 15, 2008

From athletic gear to improve performance to spending way too much money just to show how powerful and successful China is, here’s a round up of some of the tech at the Beijing Olympics.

Listen to John Scott and David Spark talk about Olympic tech on Green 960 (Time: 8:44)

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  • High Tech swimsuits – Developed at NASA, thanks to funding for Speedo, scientists have found the smoothest surface, a fabric known as FastSkin, that allows swimmers to cut through the water. Buy a Speedo LZR Racer and you’ll be all the rage at your kidney shaped pool.
  • Cooling suits – Stay cool just before the race. Put on a Nike water-filled vest that’s been pre-frozen in your freezer. Wear it an hour before your race and your cool torso will take longer to overheat.
  • Altitude training at sea level – Training at high altitudes, an athlete’s body responds to the low oxygen by creating more red blood cells. When the athlete comes back to earth, the extra red blood cells increase performance by improving oxygen flow to the muscles. But climbing a mountain just to train is not a possibility if you live in Kansas. Flat state dwellers can purchase a sealed plastic hypoxic tent which reduces the oxygen in the tent to simulate that light headed feeling at high altitudes.
  • Shoes – Of course they’re always lighter, but for runners running in circles counter clockwise they need a little extra padding on that left foot. Can an asymmetrical pair of shoes actually work? Ask Adidas. They’re the ones testing them.
  • Robotic opponentsA robot that plays ping pong with you, just because you’re little brother is no longer a challenge. Still, I like the robot that can play air hockey better.


  • Time keeping – Omega, the games’ official time keeper, is using high-speed cameras to capture images every 2000th of a second.
  • Hours of coverage – 3600! You could watch it all if you had 150 days free and didn’t want to sleep. Start watching now at
  • Bandwidth – Athletes, coaches, and others hanging at the Olympic village will have access to computers with bandwidth of 30 Mbps.
  • Security on Segways – They’re spending $6.5 billion on security. Much of that blown by purchasing Segways for security personnel. Don’t understand how Segways are making the athletes any more secure.
  • Trying to play G-d – The Chinese government is trying to treat clouds to stop the rain. Not successful since one of the softball games was already rained out.
  • Online coverage – While you can catch Olympic coverage on any of seven different networks, the coverage on is blowing away any coverage of any event ever done before. It’s a real coming out party for Microsoft’s Silverlight technology. Unfortunately, the part of the site where you can play fantasy Olympics is poorly thought out and rather anemic. Don’t bother, just go straight to the HD video on the site. Watch Robert Scoble’s interview with Eric Schmidt, who led the Silverlight development of the site.

DISCLOSURE: I did a very small project for Microsoft regarding its Silverlight development of the site.

In addition, just under half a million people every day have been checking out online coverage on their mobile devices.

  • Cameras, cameras, cameras – Everything shot in HD, but what really matters are the camera angles. My favorite are cameras mounted on archery targets and cameras that glide along the track following the runners.
  • Digital overlays – Just like the first down line in football, we’re watching the world record line in swimming. It takes a lot of number crunching and coordinating the cameras positions and angles in relation to the field. Read how it’s done from “How Stuff Works.”
  • Green Olympics? – They claim they’re shooting for zero emissions in the Olympic park area. Maybe with the sheer volume of people that could be true.

The real question will be if all this technology will allow NBC to tell a better story about the Olympics. Olympics is all about personal achievements so they need personal success stories. So far they’ve got Michael Phelps. That’s really all they need.

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