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'Chipping In' at the Olympics: High-tech makes its mark at the games


As the Winter Olympics is in its final days, and we've been awed by the skill, endurance, speed, and precision of the athletes, I came across this interesting blog from cnet news here about the relationship of high-tech electronics  equipment and the Olympics.

The ability to correctly and accurately determine races and competitions is essential.  We are also now well beyond the early 20th century games where stopwatches and pieces of paper were the gold standard; see here for a nice history of Omega and the Olympics.  Now it is the passing through a light beam that triggers a start and finish based on highly precise electronic timing and digital information from sensors, cameras shooting at 2,000 frames per second, and timers that provide judges with an important data set sent directly to their laptops in order for them to make their decisions and place the athletes (see here for some of Omega's photo finishes).

Even those not competing based on speed, but on precision or completion of required routines, find their sports well grounded in high-tech electonics.  Skaters are filmed and photographed digitally so that it is not a judge's memory, attention, or perspective upon which their medaling rises or falls.  Judges can now immediately review what just happened while also providing their qualitative assessment of the athletes' performance.  Similarly, we, the audience, are now treated to the "ghost" imagery of multiple athletes on the same course to compare the differences in performance and technique, or moving digital lines to show what's need to attain a spot on the podium; these data are, again, provided by advances in electronics and wireless communication.

So, as the games begin to wind down, remember that the semiconductor and electronics industries have been playing critical roles in the Olympic games; from the years of training where athletes and coaches monitored and improved their daily performance all the way through to recording the finish lines and last routines to provide critical data to the judges' decision trees.  But, as the cnetauthor points out, you still have to make sure the judges know how to read these new data, now that "a pixel of difference" can be the difference between a gold, silver or bronze medal.

Lisa Ann Cairns, Ph.D.
Written on Wednesday, 24 February 2010 09:07 by Lisa Ann Cairns, Ph.D.

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