The modern Olympics have been running for 116 years, but many events remain unsafe and difficult to score. We propose ideas that might help solve some of the toughest problems.
About 100 riders are injured in eventing falls every year, and when a multimillion-dollar horse goes down, even a minor injury like a twisted ankle can end its career. Computerized bases on the ground could project holographic obstacles, such as four-foot fences and 15-foot-wide pools, in place of dangerous physical objects. Line-of-sight infrared beams could monitor the edges of the obstacles; if the horse breaks the beam, the system would instantly alert the judges—and the crowd—to the fault.
SMART LANDING PADS
Scoring the exact length of a long or triple jump can be imprecise and time-consuming. Athletes land in a sand pit, where they make several marks; officials must locate the mark closest to the takeoff line before they can measure. Researchers at Arizona State University have developed a 2,016-pressure-sensor array to map where an athlete hits the ground. Placed underneath the sand in the landing pit, a dozen or so of the mats could record the exact point of touchdown, and a computer could automatically calculate the length of the jump.
Swimmers are often unaware of their standing in a race until it's over. Goggles with an integrated head-up display could broadcast a live view of the competition and help racers to better pace themselves. Waterproofed with an invisible layer of hydrophobic nanoparticles, a technique currently used on cellphones and other gadgets, a small computer tucked in the lower right-hand corner of the goggles would gather position information from other wired racers over Bluetooth and display it on a quarter-inch LCD.
AUTOMATIC GOAL KEEPER
In a low-scoring game like soccer, one bad goal call can do a lot of damage. A reversed call in a match against Germany, for example, cost the U.K. a potentially pivotal goal in the 2010 World Cup. To help refs, who may not always have a clear view of both the ball and net, German research institution Fraunhofer has developed an automated goal-tracking system. Actuators around the net generate a magnetic field across the face of the goal. When the ball passes through that field, a chip embedded in the ball sends a signal to the ref's watch within one tenth of a second.
RETRACTABLE DIVING BOARD
On a good day, a diver's head misses the board by a couple of inches. On a bad day, the two collide, as happened to American Chelsea Davis in the 2005 World Championships (she suffered a broken nose and needed several stitches) and, most famously, Greg Louganis in the 1988 Olympics. A hydraulic springboard could make diving safer. In the one second a typical diver is airborne above the plane of the board, it could retract as much as three feet. An accelerometer would sense each takeoff and initiate the movement.
While some of these things may in fact come to pass, I think there is a lot of resistance to change in the Olympic games. Having myself been involved in previous games, including meeting many athletes, Olympic officials, and visiting heads of state, I can attest that tradition is a very strong influence to those in the sports and the decision-makers.
What's more, high-tech items could easily be seen as exclusionary to the smaller/poorer countries who currently struggle just to field a few athletes. Take the retractable diving board idea, or the holographic obstacles. They would change the way athletes and compete and react. And as such, their practice facilities would need to be equipped with them as well, at a large increase in cost and complexity. Maybe the US and China can afford that, but what about all the other countries?
Some ideas, such as the computer in the goggles, would probably be rejected right away due to the belief such augmentation goes beyond what your body can normally perceive. Especially as it would probably require outside equipment to broadcast a signal to the goggles. Even in the cycling road races, radios aren't allowed, even just between riders on the same team. They are purists, and want to know what the athlete can do, not the athlete and their gadgets can do. Training with tech and gadgets is one thing, but they want to see what you can do in competition without them.
Me personally, I think the games are expanding and are already way too big. Its as bad as bloatware on some of the computer builders' machines. As the games expand, they get more complex and more expensive, and each individual event loses some of its appeal. I'd love to have the number of total events limited to a certain number that are the most popular around the world. And my personal preference is for events that can be quantified, not given a judge's score.
As for safety, they're already extremely safe. Athletes have a greater chance of getting hurt driving to a venue than in their event. As far as I know, I don't see any athletes out there (or even their respective countries or federations) calling for additional safety measures.
Just because we can do something, doesn't mean we should.
I like most of the ideas, but I'm on the fence about the HUD goggles for reasons that marcoreid pointed out in his comment. But, what I'm really concerned about is the retracting diving board. Since divers can take several hops on the board before actually going into the actual dive, there could be a mistake that the board retracts prematurely. The diver is expecting another jump on the board, but ends up falling in the pool instead. Obviously the diver will still be un-injured but it could have devastating effects on the his/her psyche when re-diving.
Yeah, I don't think goggles like that would ever be approved for use. Especially after the whole LZR Racer swimsuit situation in the 2008 Olympics that gave athletes wearing "normal" swimsuits a pretty clear disadvantage (94% of races were won by swimmers wearing the LZR. . .that's nuts).
Yeah, there is no way holographic obstacles would ever work. Horses are smart animals. The second they figure out there is not an actual obstacle in from of them they will run right through it. Its a great concept but unfortunately horses would outsmart it. And then they might start thinking everything in front of them is "not there" and start trying to run through their pasture fences etc. There are some things technology just needs to stay away from.
John, I am curious to know the origin of the "holographic obstacles" proposition. I know these articles are pumped out quickly and the "Popular Science" is exactly what its name implies, but this scenario is a belies a comically misinformed interpretation of both horses and sport.
As Little Princess puts it "Horses are smart animals." They jump 1.6m fences because they are trained over many years and thousands of repetitions not to hit solid objects. Fences do not hurt the horses, but they are also not enjoyable for the horse to hit. Hurdle racing, where horses compete over a course of synthetic brush fences, proves what would happen if fences, despite visual clues other wise are not solid. Winning horses learn to lower their arc and brush through the fences instead of over them to save time.
Horses are not people. They will not jump over something immaterial for glory and eternal fame. Nor are horses like dogs. They will not do a task that makes no apparent sense just to please their master.
Also, check your facts. There have been safety concerns about the cross country portion of three day eventing, but you are showing the wrong discipline.
With so much rich history and interesting science in the Olympic equestrian events it is a shame that you land on something that would be laughed at by anyone who has even a cursory familiarity with riding. You should look into the physics of rider balance or in the arc of a horses jump for instance.
Sports in general is about perfection in the human and animal. This includes human officiating.
To me, the whole idea of a game is to strive for perfection. The arguements about the possible errors are another intriguing part.
I also suspect that you will find that officating errors will still happen. Not only will the machines have their own errors, there will still be aspects that the human must judge (e.g. penalties).
The horse jump MIGHT save some injury, but where is it implemented? If the first time an anminal encounters it is at the olympics, it could well become confused. Are we to go holographic on all jumps?
Can't we keep games as human/animal experiences? Major league sports in the US are being ruined by the idiot replay cams, and they're spreading to college and high school levels. Not everythig is improved by technology.
A single chip couldn't be embedded in a ball without it being located at only one point on it's surface. This means that only a small portion of the ball could penetrate the magnetic curtain and still activate the goal sensor. Better to make a magnetic mesh and sew it into the layered material comprising the outer skin. The system would be complete if it required a second input from another source like a net sensor. If the system receives both inputs, it's a score but a net signal alone or a goal-face penetration signal alone wouldn't register as a score.