Electronic Design

New Tech Gives Olympic Athletes The Boost They Need To Get To The Podium

Technology is playing an increasingly dominant role in the Olympic games

The 2006 Winter Olympics were not won by strength alone. These days technology is playing an increasingly dominant role in the way that athletes train for and perform in the Olympic games.

According to Ontario’s Fort Frances Times, Canada’s skeleton team, which walked away from the Olympics with gold, silver, and bronze medals, used wind tunnel testing as part of their training. Canada’s bobsled teams, meanwhile, used video analysis to fine-tune their runs.

Olympians may be taking a much-needed breather after the competition, but organizers for the 2008 Beijing games are already working feverishly to prepare the city for the next winter games. Accommodating spectators who travel to the games is important because athletes feed on their energy. That means China must ready itself for the influx of observers that will soon flock to the nation’s capital.

Telecommunications companies in China, bolstered by assurances by government officials that 3G licenses will be doled out by year’s end, are rushing to put networks in place. Hardware manufacturers are also gearing up for what could be the coming out party for the new technology. According to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal, two Chinese telecommunications companies, Huawai Technologies and ZTE Corp., are "pouring resources into 3G," dedicating thousands of engineers to the development of equipment and handsets. If everything goes off without a hitch, spectators will have access to the next winter games in the palms of their hands.

But first, let’s take a look at some technological marvels from the 2006 Torino games:

GE Healthcare LOGIQ Book XP portable ultrasound
The world will never forget U.S. gymnast Kerri Strug’s courageous vault at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics. Strug, who had sprained her ankle during a previous attempt, put the pain and worry that going forward would cause irreparable damage out of her mind and stuck the landing, cinching the Gold medal for the Americans.

In the past, taking the time to thoroughly evaluate an injury could be devastating to an Olympian. A trip to the hospital for X-rays was really the only way for a medical professional to say with certainty if the athlete could continue competing.

Enter the LOGIQ Book XP. With GE’s portable ultrasound, injuries were evaluated on site. By February 21, 12 days into the games, 67 ultrasounds had been performed on competitors. For the first time, many were done without having to leave the Olympic stadium.

The LOGIQ Book XP is just one of a number of portable medical devices that are changing the way medical emergencies are handled. Portable automated external defibrillators also enable medical professionals to quickly respond to an emergency, significantly cutting down response time to cardiac arrest (see "A Prescription-less Portable Defibrillator" at www.electronicdesign.com, ED Online 11662).

GE’s portable ultrasound is strikingly similar to a laptop. The system has a keyboard that is common to GE’s LOGIQ family of products, a trackball for easy navigation, and a color display. It has 60 Gbytes of memory, 30 Gbytes of which are dedicated to holding more than 30,000 ultrasounds. Images can be exported via the CD-R/W drive, USB device, or by wireless Digital Imaging and Communication in Medicine (DICOM) protocol.

Making an ultrasound machine small enough to be portable meant that a lot of hardware had to be cut out from the device’s design. A number of functions on traditional ultrasound machines are housed on individual boards. Today’s micro components, combined with faster processors, increased memory capacity, and miniature power supplies, reduced the number of boards needed and even made the transition from hardware to software possible for some functions.

"We began to eliminate a lot of the hardware," said Jeffrey Peiffer, compact ultrasound global marketing manager at GE Healthcare. "The colorflow doppler used to be on separate, fairly large boards. Now it’s all done with software."

But making an ultrasound small enough to be portable is not enough to make it useful. To provide access to previous scans from a remote location and conferencing with medical experts, GE made the device wireless. A secure server and real-time streaming video make it possible for a team of medical professionals in various locations around the world to make an accurate diagnosis.

GE, which said it expected to sell more than 3000 compact ultrasound systems worldwide by the end of 2005, is already thinking of how to improve the portable device. While the LOGIQ Book XP can do a continuous scan for about an hour and a half and hold power for about eight hours in standby mode, Peiffer said medical professionals who use the LOGIQ Book in locations where power is inconsistent have been asking for longer battery life. And with 3G just around the corner, Peiffer said, performing an ultrasound anywhere will be an even more distinct reality. (Fig. 1)

Burton Snowboards Audex jacket
The wearable-electronics revolution has hit the ski slopes with the Burton Audex jacket. The down jacketæthe result of a collaborative effort by Burton Snowboards and Motorola to create high-tech athletic wearæ allows boarders to listen to their favorite tunes and make calls without making a trip back to the lodge.

The Audex is equipped with pockets specifically designed for an iPod and a cell phone, a removable LCD control panel, Bluetooth stereo speakers, and a microphone. A rechargeable battery, which sits on a chest module, powers the system. According to gadgetreview.com, the jacket is compatible with generation three or later iPods and any brand of Bluetooth 1.1- or 1.2-enabled cell phone that supports hands-free or headset use. (Fig. 2)

Smith Optics Turbo CAM snow goggles
Smith Optics’ Turbo CAM line of snow goggles features an adjustable ventilation system that keeps moisture out and vision clear. An integrated exhaust fan powered by two AAA batteries runs continuously to eliminate fog. If a skier or snowboarder begins to sweat or is met by a drastic change in weather conditions, the fan can be adjusted to compensate for increased or decreased moisture. (Fig. 3)

Uvex Sports F1 Magic ski goggles
What started as an effort by AlphaMicron to enable Air Force pilots to adjust light entering into their flight helmet visors is now helping skiers to see more clearly as well. Uvex Sports’ F1 Magic ski goggles feature a Variable Attenuation Liquid Crystal Device (VALiD), a technology that uses non-scattering, high-contrast guest-host mixtures of dichroic dyes and liquid crystal hosts, to electronically adjust lens tint. By pressing a button, the wearer activates conductors in the goggle frame. These conductors then activate an electro-optic response, controlling the light transmission of the lens. (Fig. 4)

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