The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio will push new limits of innovation for the world’s biggest sporting event.
Starting August 5th, all eyes are on the Rio Olympics. While much of the advance publicity has focused on the logistical challenges of pulling off this year’s event, the 2016 Games will also be a platform for brands to showcase advanced technology.
“It will be the most sophisticated and technologically forward-looking presentation by a lot,” said Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said during a May presentation at The Internet and Television Expo in Boston. “It will be a technological marvel.”
Viewership is expected to be bigger than ever. Just one hour ahead of the East Coast of the US, Brazil’s time zone means record numbers of Americans are expected to tune in. As of March, NBC had surpassed $1 billion in advertising sales from Rio, hitting the target four months earlier than it did for the 2012 London games.
The biggest tech stories from the Olympics revolve around elite sports, but these high-end experiments can also point to new technologies that are poised to break into the mainstream.
Under Armour is showcasing its first line of commercially available 3D-printed sneakers, called Architech. Swimmer Michael Phelps will sport a custom-designed pair of the kicks, which use a 3D-printed sole for a highly customized fit for athletic performance. The first version of the shoe, launched in March, sold out in under 20 minutes.
The Nike Zoom Superfly Elite, designed for Olympic sprinters, was also created using 3D printing. A digital algorithm designed the shoe’s honeycomb-like base, which allows for stiffness without weight. The Rio Games will also be the first to feature Nike’s AeroSwift fabric. Tiny triangular silicon spikes are 3D printed into the Nike fabric, redirecting air flow around runners to reduce drag.
New wearables technology will be everywhere in Rio. The US cycling team will use the brand-new Solos smart eyewear, a Google Glass-like interface that streams performance data directly into the athlete’s field of vision. The Solos app also syncs with nearly any wearable device, for customized performance data. Voice commands and audio alerts show how fitness tracking might be integrated with other technology for future athletes.
The Whoop also points to a future of wearables inspired by elite athletes. The 24/7 tracker monitors metrics like sleep and heart rate, and is geared toward analyzing recovery and performance. Unlike other fitness trackers, however, the Whoop app also offers predictive analysis for coaches, suggesting when an athlete might be at peak times. Athletes like swimmer Ryan Lochte and wrestler Adeline Gray have used Whoop in training for Rio. Beginning in July, the Whoop was opened up for pre-order to non-elite athletes.
In the run-up to the games, San Francisco-based Halo Neuroscience is testing transcranial direct stimulation. Several Olympic athletes are using the company’s Halo Sport, a device that looks like headphones. Halo Sport delivers low-voltage electric current to the motor cortex, which stimulates neural networks and improves cognitive abilities. Launched in February, the technology will see its first public test at the Rio Olympics.
Finally, Visa is launching a test run of its new debit rings, the wearable payment system backed by a major credit card company. The rings come in white or black, are waterproof and require no charging. The rings are reloadable and function at touch card readers around in the world. At the Olympics, 45 athletes will test the technology, which Visa hopes to deploy to the wider public if it proves successful.
The Rio Olympics will be the first to be covered in virtual reality—with an ambitious scope. The Olympics Broadcasting Service will produce 85 hours of VR programming, capturing the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as and other highlights. Programming will be distributed to partners including NBC and the BBC. Customized cameras, shaped like bowling balls, have been designed to capture the action in 3D.
“The world’s greatest sporting event is always a showcase for cutting edge technology, and we’re thrilled to partner with Samsung and OBS to bring our viewers even closer to compelling Olympic action with virtual reality,” said Gary Zenkel, President of NBC Olympics, in an announcement. “Olympic fans can be transported to iconic venues such as Maracana Stadium for an unprecedented view of the Opening Ceremony, and Copacabana Beach for an immersive beach volleyball experience in the sport’s ultimate setting.”
As the official photographic agency of the Games, Getty Images will also equip each photographer with a 360-degree camera. The Rio Olympics represents one of the company’s biggest forays into VR since launching a dedicated VR division in June. Dawn Airey, CEO of Getty Images, said the company is preparing for a “tectonic plate shift” in VR, with 14 million VR consoles expected to sell in 2016.
If successful, the Rio Olympics could be a new blueprint for how VR coverage is used in sports and other live events, like the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia or the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. By putting on-demand cable subscribers at the center of the action, TV producers will be able to gauge consumer reaction as a bellwether for the future of VR coverage.