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Real front runners

What’s the tech secret behind the greatest sporting spectacle in the world? Here are some eat-your-heart out facts.

brunch Updated: Sep 01, 2012 18:33 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Rajiv Makhni
Hindustan Times

What’s the tech secret behind the greatest sporting spectacle in the world?

The following are eat-your-heart out facts:
* I was invited to the London Olympics.
* I was there as a very special invitee and sat in all the VIP areas.
* I attended most of the finals including football, boxing and the closing ceremony.
* After being invited to walk the red carpet at Cannes (on two nights), being a special invitee at the Olympics completed an amazing super double for me this year.

Now that the gloating is done, let’s get down to reality. What am I, a fairly small fry, doing at all these ‘super hot rod impossible to get invited to’ world events? Frankly, I have no idea!

It’s raining technology: Acer hit a home run with every spectator with S3 Ultrabooks, Iconica W Tablets strewn all over

Epic Error
My best guess is that my name has got mixed up with someone else’s (though with a last name like Makhni, it has to be a blunder of gigantic proportions) and I’ve erroneously ended up on some serious celebrity list. Well, until someone discovers the error, I’m all for making hay while the sun shines. My journey to London for the Olympics was pretty awesome and the purpose was for me to experience the sporting event in all its glory. What they forgot was this – when you send a techie anywhere and for anything – he’s going to find the geekpath and the nerdtrack behind the event. Thus ladies and gentleman, I present to you – the tech secrets behind the greatest sporting spectacle in the world.

The Army
The first thing to hit me was the serious efficiency that the games were run with. This was mostly due to the staggering number of volunteers for the event. From white-haired grannies to dread-locked 16-year-olds, this was an army of over enthusiastic helpers. At times the ‘help’ was almost in your face as I was assisted for things I didn’t want any guidance for (directions to come back to my seat, nearest bathroom, how to get back to my car, was I hungry and 100 other queries at every 15 feet). This army ran their ship like a take-no-prisoners, help-all-that-you-see, well-oiled machine. But beyond this giant platoon of forced direction – it was technology that made this the most amazingly managed Olympics ever.

Jaw Droppers
First, the broadcast technology that was the big jaw dropper. There were so many new techniques used, but here are those that will change the way sports is broadcast from here on.

Time Slicing – you saw this in the Matrix trilogy – but those special effects were shot over 30 days and cost millions of dollars in post production. At the Olympic gymnastics broadcast, you saw it in real time. How did they do it? Well, the secret lies in using more than 30 cameras laid in a horseshoe pattern around the action. Using live feeds from each of those cameras and putting it together with stop-motion technology, footage was edited and put together in real time.

A Slice of time: Time slicing uses live feeds, put together with stop-motion technology. Footage is edited and put together in real time

Then there was the Dive Cam, a camera system rigged up to dive with the diver of a pulley and into the water. This coupled with the WetDry Dual Cam system (one camera is above water and the other is underwater, but both move and film the same subject at the same time) were the reasons you were able to see those stunning images of a diver entering the water in one continuous shot.

Technology was also at its best to give us the real winners and accurate results. Electronic Starting Blocks for athletics (detects pressure of the runner’s heel along with lasers and HD video recordings), Taekwondo Sensor Outfits (socks and clothing fitted with electronic sensors; as soon as contact is made, the sensors registers the blow), Quantum Timers (starter’s pistol linked to the timer and the pistol’s sound broadcast electronically behind each runner so as kill any controversies over the speed of sound), swimming pressure pads (each swimmer’s race times are registered by an electronic pad at the race end line, this pad registers the time only when 2.99 kgs of focused pressure is applied) to laser beam tapes (an athlete passes a laser beam that cuts across the track along with a HD photo finish camera that shoots 2,000 frames per second).

Another aspect showcased was true computing power and what it took to run this Olympics like clockwork. Think that’s just a typical PR tagline? Mull over these numbers: 13,500 desktops, 13,000 computer monitors, 2,900 notebooks, 950 servers and thousands of technicians were deployed across all the venues. The company behind it all was Acer. I wasn’t without access to a computer for more than 30 seconds of walk time. And the products they had strewn around were pretty formidable as each area had S3 Ultrabooks, Iconica W Tablets plus free broadband Internet and printing. Acer hit a home run with every spectator and as Mr Anton Mitsyuk, MD of Acer confirmed to me, they were just living up to their new tagline “Explore beyond limits”.

Above and Beyond
There’s a lot more that I was shown and demonstrated that is beyond the scope and size (note once again to editor) of this column. For instance, the controversy behind how sportspersons are using rocket science level technology like laser wind tunnels, the RespiBelt, Dartfish cameras (amazing, look it up), air vests, waterless swimming and even nano coating your own body to train. This Olympics used more technology than ever before and if they really had to give a gold medal – tech should have got it.

Now, I’m waiting for my invite to attend the Grammy’s for the next year. After all, who else can go behind the scenes and tell you the technology that truly powers Lady Gaga?

Step up now: Electronic Starting Blocks detect the pressure of a runner’s heel

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, CellGuru and Newsnet 3. Follow Rajiv on Twitter at /RajivMakhni

From HT Brunch, September 2

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