The Olympics are a global stage for the world’s most elite athletes, which means they’re also a prime venue for premiering new tech. From host cities racing to build new infrastructure to networks adding more immersive viewing experiences, the Summer Olympics serve as an impetus for innovation.
In Rio, competitors are taking advantage of new gadgets and gear designed to improve their speed, agility and focus. Military-inspired surveillance systems are keeping spectators and support personnel safe. Data and information companies are developing new ways to make it easier for fans to follow the events from anywhere.
Here are 12 solutions that aim to make the 17-day event run more smoothly and elevate athletes to the top of their game -- and the number-one step on the podium.
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1. Nike AeroBladesNike
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 will make 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.
2. Hykso punch-tracking sensorsHykso
The Canadian boxing team hasn’t won an Olympic medal since 1996, but they hope to improve their record this year after practicing with 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.
“Having access to this added layer of knowledge gives our team a huge competitive advantage heading into Rio this summer,” Trepanier said in a Hykso testimonial.
3. Solos augmented reality glassesSolos
For training cyclists who want to check their vital signs and boost their performance mid-ride, Solos smart glasses provide an augmented reality view of the info, “heads up and hands free.”
Solos, an official sponsor of the U.S. Cycling Team, has partnered with the athletes to create a pair of shades that display stats such as cadence, heart rate, speed, distance, duration and more, layered over the road ahead.
The glasses, developed by Westborough, Mass.-based Kopin Corporation, are designed to be aerodynamic, stylish and comfortable. They also contain a speaker, which delivers an audio feed of the cyclist’s stats, and connect to a mobile interface.
While the U.S. Cycling Team has trained with Solos, they won’t be able to wear them during the races in Rio.Kickstarter
4. Omega underwater lap countersPeopleImages.com | Getty Images
Watchmaker company Omega has been the official timekeeper for all but three of the Olympic Games since 1932, but this year, it’s expanding 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.Rio2016.com
5. Visa payment wearablesVisa
Visa has teamed up with Brazilian bank Bradesco to create a bracelet that allows spectators at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games to pay for things by waving an arm over a sensor. All 4,000 point-of-sale terminals at Olympic venues are equipped with near-field communication tech that will power these transactions. NFC is the same type of system that powers Apple Pay and Google Pay.
In addition, Visa is providing all of the 45 Olympic and Paralympic athletes it sponsors with wearable rings they can use to make purchases in the same manner. 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.
6. Logos Technologies surveillance balloonsLogos Technologies
To keep athletes and spectators safe, Rio has spent $8 million on a contract with Logos Technologies to provide aerial surveillance.
While Logos originally developed its technology for the U.S. Department of Defense, this is the first large-scale civilian application for its sophisticated imaging system, Simera. Logos has installed four 40-pound balloons, tethered to the ground, each with 13 high-resolution cameras affixed to them. All cameras combined are capable of capturing three photos per second of the surrounding area, with each balloon covering about 55 square miles, according to Sport Techie.
Operators can zoom in on an unlimited number of areas, connect to security cameras on the ground and communicate with law enforcement officers. While the cameras lack facial recognition technology, the system does archive video so operators can retrace a suspicious person’s path.
7. ImageSat International satellite securityImageSat International
Security systems are also stationed outside the Earth’s atmosphere for Rio. The Eros-B satellite, owned and operated by Israeli company ImageSat International, is providing detailed inspections of Rio de Janeiro during both the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The Eros-B has been in low Earth orbit since 2006, taking pictures of the Earth’s surface. But now the commercial satellite, which can capture high-resolution images of up to one and a half feet in an area of approximately 31 miles, is helping to identify people, cars and even goods during the games, according to Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
8. Google for the GamesGoogle
When you enter an Olympics-related query, Google will display 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 livestreaming, 15 YouTube curators will also be broadcasting from their phones.360-degree virtual tour
9. Getty Images curation and sharingPool | Getty Images
Getty Images has launched a new platform specially designed for the Olympics -- and for the everyday user.
The Rio 2016 Olympic Games platform organizes 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 is present in Rio, and Getty expects them to gather more than 1.5 million images over the course of the Olympics. Many of them are being taken with 360-degree cameras and both overhead and underwater robotic cameras.
The images will appear 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.Getty
10. NBC and Samsung VR programmingGabriel Grams | Getty Images
Olympic Broadcasting Services, NBC and Samsung have partnered to stream 85 hours of Rio Olympics coverage in virtual reality.
The opening and closing ceremonies, men’s basketball, gymnastics, track and field, beach volleyball, diving, boxing and fencing are all being made accessible in VR to anyone with both a Samsung Galaxy smartphone and a Samsung Gear VR headset via the NBC Sports app. Samsung customers with a TV provider can also see the VR content via TV Everywhere. One sport per day will be available to users in the U.S., from Aug. 6 through Aug. 22, on delay.NBCOlympics.com
11. Flextronics illuminated flag bearer blazerDavid Rogers | Getty Images
Michael Phelps, 22-time medal-winner and designated flag bearer for the opening ceremony, is leading Team U.S.A. around the track at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã stadium in style.
Polo Ralph Lauren worked with Flextronics to embed electro-luminescent panels into Phelps’ blazer. The panels are located on both the front and back of the jacket, and they light up the U.S. Olympic Team logo and “USA” with the flip of a switch hidden in the pocket, according to a Ralph Lauren blog post.
12. Under Armour 3-D-printed shoes for Michael PhelpsUnder Armour
But wait, don’t swimmers go barefoot during races?
The shoes are for marketing purposes. Under Armour created them to generate buzz around the company’s UA Architech 3-D-printed shoes, which premiered earlier this year.
The midsoles of the UA Architect’s -- and Phelps’ new sneakers -- is 3-D printed. But Phelps’ pair contains a special touch: the insole features a footprint of Phelps’ infant son, Boomer, according to Fortune.