Watching in VR
Intel will capture 30 Olympic events in virtual reality for the IntelTrue VR system, the largest-scale VR event to date and the first-ever live VR broadcast of the Olympic Winter Games. Intel will use paired-lens capture systems with multiple stereoscopic pods, as well as up to 12 4K cameras. The whole endeavor will generate up to 1 TB of data per hour.
With the IntelTrue VR system, as seen on the NBC Sports VR app for fans in the United States, users can select three to six camera locations per event or simply sit back and let a produced VR-cast take over. Intel plans more than just live event broadcasts. It will offer highlights and the chance to “fly” through PyeongChang.
You might watch the games in virtual reality, but some of America's top athletes trained for them that way. STRIVR worked with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard over the past two years, offering athletes continue to (virtually) train while injured or build up experience. “It is a way for athletes to get reps on a course so when they return to the course they are prepared and they have mental markers they can reference,” says Brian Meek, STRIVR chief technology officer.
STRIVR strapped a six-camera video-capture rig to a skier to build a 4K, 60-frames-per-second virtual model for the athletes. The olympians can adjust vantage points in the video for slightly different angles, and overlay fog, snow, and rain to prepare mentally for different conditions.
Troy Taylor, high performance director for USSA, says athletes “are using 360 video and VR in multiple ways in competition, from inspections of the race course, helping athletes learn the lines they will race through, to helping athletes rehabilitate from injuries. In the future, we predict that this use of technology will be the new normal.”
Suits and Sunglasses
Following what can only be described as a disappointing no-medal 2014 Olympics for the U.S. long-track speed skating team, its supplier, Under Armour, spent four years trying to reinvent the speed skating suit.
The new suit comes with an asymmetrical design for maximum movement when in the skating position, new fabric prints to reduce drag, and what Clay Dean, UA chief innovation officer, calls the most aerodynamic design created by the company.
Essentially, Dean says, UA designed the suit to fit athletes when in the “heat of the gesture.” That is: Instead of designing the suit for when an athlete stands, they designed for the crouch-down skating position, eliminating fabric tension when in motion. The stitching runs consistent to the right leg over left leg skating motion and the movement in the material has elasticity maximized when crouched.
“Where do the seams go, what are the properties of the fabrics, each one of those issues leads to the next,” Dean says. “The whole goal is to create a suit that is virtually a second skin to the athlete.”
Under Armour built a new H1 knit for the arms and legs. Similar to the company’s Threadborne technology but “hot-rodded up for the team,” the warp knit has a sandpaper feel to reduce drag in the wind. The redesigned hood improves fit, and the main body portion (the sections in blue) use a nylon spandex material with a polyurethane coating. An interior ceramic print creates a diamond-plated dimpled effect to help air move better over the body.
“We had over 100 different fabrics the team explored,” Dean says. Lab and wind testing dissected chemistry and yarn to create the best material for bursts, flow, cooling and aerodynamics.
On the snow, expect to see Oakley athletes wearing orange and yellow goggles with Oakley Prizm technology, a lens that enhances color details based on the environment. The Olympic Harmony Fade collection includes goggles and sunglasses tuned for the snow by using dyes in the lens creation designed to absorb certain light transmission in an effort to enhance contrast on the white snow and ice.
The bobsled team has again paired with BWW to recreate the three-medal-winning two-man sled from the 2014 Olympics. The carbon-fiber sleds reimagined shape, weight distribution and the approach to aerodynamics in 2014 that resulted in a smaller, narrower sled that placed emphasis on the centralization of weight, particularly shaving off excess bulk from the front of the sled.
Also on the ice track, Nike’s Tobie Hatfield teamed with to create a specialized pair of skeleton spikes for the newly minted South African Olympian. Using a team of 25 designers and engineers, Hatfield hand-made the brush spikes with 503 tiny, super-sharp spikes under the forefoot of the sliding shoe.
“A machine is used to carve out and then sharpen each spike from a solid block of stainless steel,” Hatfield says. “It’s super labor-intensive.” It takes about 60 hours to make, but essential as skeleton athletes use their toes to steer the sled, stabilize themselves around the corner and break.
Stay Warm Out There
Columbia, which will outfit the U.S. freestyle ski team, along with five other countries including Canada, offers jackets with OutDry Extreme, a membrane that features a waterproof layer to repel water while still allowing for four-way stretch for complete range of motion. The jacket interiors include Omni-Heat Reflective for a lightweight warming option.
Columbia has built in a snow camouflage pattern designed to help mask body movement—a key judging component—for mogul skiers and a laser-bonded zipper to reduce the weight of zipper tape.
As Team USA athletes take to the medal stand in the cold, outdoor conditions, Nike will outfit them in gear that includes Gore-Tex waterproofing and wind protection in the jackets, knit hand warmers inside the pockets and a gaiter boot with a lace-free closure system and heat reflectivity.
Follow Tim Newcomb on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.