Technology sponsors are taking advantage of the global exposure provided by the Centennial Olympics--more than 65% of the world's population is expected to tune in--to show off not only tried-and-true technologies, but also to showcase new products and software applications. Some systems--such as the Internet--are not necessarily new to consumers, but they are being used for the first time by Olympics officials. A look at how several of these technologies work:
Results system: For the first time, results from 271 medal events will be sent instantaneously to spectators and the media--and to the first Olympic Games home page on the World Wide Web at http://www.atlanta.olympic.org. The system, developed by Swatch, IBM, BellSouth and Scientific-Atlanta, compiles statistics from volunteers, who enter the results of team events via laptop computers; from judges, who enter scores into a computer at judged events; and from timing equipment that captures data at timed events such as track and field and head-to-head events such as boxing. Statistics are compiled on computers at each venue and organized via software programs developed specifically for each of the 37 sports. The information is then ferried via a local area network to an IBM mainframe, and the mainframe distributes the final results.
Cash card: Electronic cash, which is popular overseas, will face its first large-scale test in the U.S. when Visa makes nearly 2 million of its cash cards available to athletes and the public at the games. A microprocessor chip embedded in the card stores a programmed monetary value. Each time a consumer uses the card, the purchase amount is deducted from the chip's memory. Once the cash is depleted, the card is thrown out, unless it's a re-loadable card, which can be recharged at an ATM machine. Unlike credit cards, the cash cards can be used for very small purchases--everything from gas stations to Atlanta's public transportation system will be equipped to handle them.
Hand geometry reader: Restricted areas will be protected in part by this device, the first "biometric" system ever used at the Games and part of an overall security system designed by Sensormatic Electronics. The device protects the highest-security areas in the Olympic Village. An antenna at the entrance to a high-security area first reads the radio frequency coming from a chip embedded in an athlete's ID badge. The athlete then places his or her hand inside the hand geometry reader, a covered pad with pegs protruding from it. The device makes a 3-D topographical map of the hand and compares it with a map of the athlete's hand stored in the radio frequency chip. If they match, the athlete is allowed to enter the area.
Timing technologies: Swatch, the Games' official timekeeper, is showcasing a number of devices in Atlanta that have never before been used at the Olympics. These include systems that measure speed, accuracy and reaction times. For example, in the Velodrome, robotic starting devices will clamp the back wheels of contestants' bikes until the race starts. Traditionally, coaches have helped steady bikers before the starting gun was fired. The clamps release after the blast of the gun triggers an electronic pulse that tells the system to let go of the bikes. The rowing competition features a device built into the bow of the boats that measures both the speed and the stroke rate and transmits the information to the crew.