Five Ways Technology Has Changed the Olympics

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Click to view When the Summer Olympics kick off in Beijing next month, they will be very different from the Olympics held eight or even four years ago. From weather control to laser timing devices, technology is having an impact on the Olympics in a profound way.

  • Supercomputers and weather control - The Beijing Meteorological Bureau purchased one of the ten most powerful supercomputers in the world from IBM to help predict weather and pollution levels for all events in and around Beijing. The Chinese are also adept at controlling the weather. The Beijing Weather Modification Office (seriously) fires cloud seeding material into oncoming rain clouds with anti-aircraft guns, draining the precipitation before it can cause problems.
  • Cyber warfare - China has claimed that they will "attack" and shut down websites that broadcast Olympic events illegally. No one is sure if this means they intend to attack other countries' websites or private sites hosted internationally. If they do, it could be the first case of open international cyber warfare.
  • On demand coverage - NBC will be broadcasting Olympic events both live and tape delayed on several of the television networks they own, and will also provide on-demand video streams of events on the web. In total, they will present more than 3,600 hours of Olympic coverage. That's more Olympic programming in 2008 than the sum of all the hours of Olympic TV coverage ever. Dude.
  • Anti-terrorism efforts - Security has been tight at the Olympics since the 1970s, but even more so since 9/11. In addition to metal detectors, bag searches, long lists of prohibited items (no crossbows!), facial recognition software, bomb sniffing dogs and whatever else the Chinese can come up with, they'll be using special equipment that lets officials detect and identify radioactive isotopes. So strontium crossbows are right out.
  • Timing - Most Olympic races are timed to the thousandth of a second. In track events, the timer is set off by the starter's gun and stopped by a laser at the finish. A high-speed camera at the line takes 2,000 images per second to help determine the winner if the race is close. Swimming events, held in the Water Cube (pictured), are timed by contact plates that determine when a swimmer leaves her mark and when she touches the wall to end the race. Image by: IOC.


China threatens Olympic Cyber Attacks. [Defense Tech]

IBM To Work Beijing Olympics Weather Magic. [ChinaTechNews]

Universal Detection Technology Secures Beijing Olympic Contract. [TMCnet]

China Leads Weather Control Race. [Wired]

How Olympic Timing Works. [HowStuffWorks]

Digital technology to play major role in Olympics. [LA Times]


Annalee Newitz

@Belabras: Wait, the Olympics?