Amanda Maxwell

Feb 22nd 2019

Let the Games Begin: 2020 Olympics Technology


The 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan are being touted as the most futuristic yet, with predictions for driverless cars, sustainable biofuels, robotics-based customer service and even a space simulator. As a unique marketing opportunity, it would be easy to dismiss 2020 Olympics technology as a gimmick, but the innovations under way could set the stage for meaningful advances in science and research.

Shooting Stars on Demand

Fireworks and the Olympics go hand-in-hand, but why not take it to the next level and produce shooting stars on demand? Sky Canvas aims to do just that, lighting up the skies for the opening ceremony with on-demand displays of artificial shooting stars. The Japan Times describes the project from Japanese tech company ALE as one of the most amazing, out-of-this-world experiences predicted for visitors to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Shooting stars occur when space debris hits Earth’s atmosphere. As space dust and particles fall, friction with the air makes them heat up and glow, and they vaporize before they reach the ground. We see these as streaks of light across the night sky. ALE Founder and astronomer Lena Okajima and her team are working on a programmable microsatellite system and the artificial shooting star pellets it will deliver into the atmosphere. The company plans to launch 50-cubic-centimeter microsatellites into orbit, each packed with a payload of around 1,000 pellets. According to a BBC video interview, the pellet formulations are engineered to burn brightly through our atmosphere. As they fall at around 8 km per second (17895.5 mph), each formulation burns in a different color, creating a display visible over a 200-km range on the ground.

Although artificial shooting stars may seem frivolous, ALE sees them as a path to upper atmosphere research. Using these tiny man-made celestial bodies as a space simulator, scientists could study how to manipulate objects in the skies above our heads. Data gained from setting up a sparkly light display might one day guide obsolete satellites into atmospheric burn out before they hit the planet.

Athletes in Your Living Room?

As well as a space simulator for the opening ceremony fireworks show, 2020 Olympics technology could also bring the athletics excitement much closer — practically into your living room. According to Inquisitr, Japanese telecom company NTT is working on a holographic capture and display service, Kirari! For Arena. Described as an “immersive telepresence” by NTT, the system will pluck the Olympic action from the stadium to deliver it in 3D elsewhere.

Reuters described the system as an advance on current technology. Instead of athletes wearing sensors to register movement and location, multiple cameras track the action. Viewers will be able to follow the holographic event from all sides, giving a much more authentic experience, almost like being at the games in person.

Japan Today noted that more immersive tech is also promised, with a drone-based, 5G-enabled 8K virtual reality (VR) innovation from NTT DoCoMo Inc. that “allows viewers to feel as if they are actually at the venue.” Mitsubishi Electric is planning free-floating holograms, as described by the Financial Times — no headset required.

Even if you don’t have access to an immersive experience, viewing the games remotely is still set to be a high-definition experience. The Verge noted that both Sony and Panasonic are bringing out 8K TV screen technology in time for Japan 2020.

Beyond the Arena

It’s not all to benefit just the games. As described in official planning documents, Japan sees 2020 Olympics technology benefits extending out of the arena and into the future. Legacy goals include accessibility and enhanced communication as well as sustainability and robotics advancement. Advances in holographic projection, VR and high-resolution imaging could help telemedicine, giving remotely located clinicians access to specialty medicine and referral services.

Other 2020 Olympics technology could benefit everyday life beyond mere entertainment value as well. Remote access could bring these kinds of events to many who are unable to attend, improving inclusion and accessibility. The Japan Times described misting systems that will cool an area within an “air curtain” without wetting clothes or paper, while the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Commission) reports on paving the marathon route so that it reduce temperatures by up to 8 degrees C, or 46 degrees F. These kinds of advanced cooling and misting solutions, coupled with heat-blocking road and walkway surfaces, could be valuable tools for urban planners to mitigate climate change.

Business Insider noted that ticketless entry combined with face recognition for crowds will be in use; enhanced surveillance technology could have immediate benefit for security and anti-terrorism measures.

There’s certainly more to 2020 Olympics technology than just games.

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