Olympic Technology is Going for Gold


This post was originally published in today’s Foster’s and Seacoast Sunday.

The Olympics taking place in PyeongChang is a spectacle of technology that is giving us a glimpse into our future. With technological powerhouses like Samsung being one of South Korea’s most well known exports, it’s no wonder technology is taking center stage.

Intel Olympics Drone TechnologyThis awesome display of technology is not without its pitfalls. On the first day of this year’s Olympics, hackers took center stage, breaking into some Olympic technology and causing the office website of the 2018 Winter Games to be taken down overnight. As of now, there does not appear to have been any serious breach, but investigators are still at work and we may not know what has really happened during the Olympic Games until well after the Olympic torch has been extinguished in PyeongChang.

One of the massive challenges for technology at an event like the Olympics is security. It’s even more of a challenge due to the nature of the event. A temporary sporting event that brings the attention of the world on a small part of the host country for a short window of time. Talk about a target of opportunity.

Olympic Games are put on by local organizing committees under the auspices of the International Olympic Committee, the IOC. Technology contracts are awarded to multiple companies by the local organizing committee and are often decentralized, meaning each vendor chosen must secure their own networks. This brings multiple players to the table and multiple vulnerabilities. Intel, Samsung, Visa, Atos, Korea Telecom, Comcast, NBC and more all have extensive technology infrastructures in place at the Olympics. Even clothier Ralph Lauren has introduced technology to Team USA’s uniforms for this year’s Winter Olympics. The jackets Team USA will be wearing include active heating technology to keep the athlete’s warm.

Multiple organizations and government agencies have warned attendees to steer clear of public WiFi and be on alert for all manner of cyber scams. Some have gone so far as to recommend turning off WiFi and Bluetooth while at the Games, to avoid what are known as drive-by attacks, where a hacker may theoretically access your device to steal information and use it as part of a larger attack.

There will be plenty of technological marvels on display, from Intel’s amazing drone light shows to Samsung’s robots. A robot even carried the Olympic Torch for part of the relay leading up to the lighting of the Olympic Flame during the opening ceremonies one week ago. Technology will also be available to the athletes to help them tune their performance and maximize their experience. Suits with smart sensors will provide a level of athletic performance feedback not previously seen. It will be interesting to see if any competitors make changes based on this new information that will be available.

Another first for these Olympics is that all of the technology systems running and broadcasting the games will be Cloud based. You won’t find the temporary data centers that powered past games. This year, critical systems will all be physically away from the games in Cloud data centers. There are some fifty critical applications behind this year’s Olympic experience, all out in the Cloud.

Even with this reliance on the Cloud, there will still be well over three thousand IT workers on the ground in PyeongChang supporting the games. Whether things are based in the Cloud or not, you still need an on-site IT infrastructure to enable everything from accurately capturing race times to broadcasting the events live online and to television viewers worldwide.

For spectators who are in PyeongChang, Intel is providing virtual reality experiences from the athlete’s point of view. Imagine putting on a virtual reality headset and finding yourself hurtling down a slalom course at 70 to 80 mph. You can if you want to.

I mentioned Visa earlier as one of the technology companies on display at the Olympics. Yes, Visa is a financial services company, mostly known for issuing debit and credit cards. In PyeongChang, Visa is showcasing payment technologies of the future. There are contactless payment terminals throughout the venues. Visa provided special rings to the athletes that have embedded payment technology, allowing an athlete to simply wave their hand over a payment terminal to pay for something. Visa even has smart gloves in use so that when you are outside, you won’t have to take your gloves off to pay for something. Just place your hand near a payment terminal and make your payment.

The Olympics are always a great event, showcases known and unknown athletes and great stories of triumph and defeat. Technology is giving us a glimpse into the future as well this year, except the future is now.

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