January 31, 2022

Beijing Winter Olympics’ Tech Includes Robots, Broadcast Enhancements, and an Open Internet

By Protolabs

Every two years, the Olympic Games provide a chance to show off athletic prowess. It has also become a way for countries to show off their technological advancement. The 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing are no exception. China will show off high-end tech in support of various operations and activities during the event.

While most of the recent Olympic buzz has surrounded the diplomatic boycott of the Winter Games by the U.S. and other countries over human rights issues in China, athletes from those countries will still compete.

Of course, the on-going pandemic looms over everything at the competition. For example, the NHL opted to not send players to the Winter Olympics because the league’s regular-season schedule has been disrupted due to increasing COVID-19 cases, and because of the surging omicron variant. That means Olympic teams from the U.S., Canada, Finland, Sweden, and other countries will not have NHL players on their rosters.

Beyond these issues, however, as preparation for the Winter Games continues, and as the events themselves get under way, innovative technology will play a prime supporting role.

A small fleet of self-driving vehicles will be available to shuttle attendees between venues.

Robots Help Limit People-to-People Contact at Olympics

In this pandemic era, artificial intelligence (AI) robots are being deployed in a variety of roles at the Winter Games with the central mission of reducing direct contact between people.

Robots are being used for disinfection services, body temperature checks, and environmental monitoring against aerosol transmission of the coronavirus, and will be used at official hotels and sports venues.

Other robots are helping out with logistics at sport venues. Each bot can carry more than 600 pounds of goods—an Olympian feat in itself—and perform contactless distribution at the venue.

In addition, a 10-vehicle fleet of autonomous, self-driving robotaxis are expected to be available to provide shuttle services for athletes and staff in Shougang Park, one of several venues of the Winter Games, on the outskirts of Beijing. The robotaxis will be available at eight stops covering an area of just over 1 square mile. To reassure the skeptics, officials have said the vehicles will be remotely monitored and support will be available in case of emergency.

Still other robots will grind coffee beans and place the resulting grounds in a percolator to brew a cup of coffee in about four minutes. What AI baristas may lack in charm they’ll make up for in efficiency—and in preventing virus transmission.

Broadcasting Tech to Enhance Winter Olympics for Fans

Whether watching the extreme speed of downhill skiers or the elegance of figure skaters, fans will enjoy interactive and immersive viewing experiences, thanks to new broadcasting technologies such as 8K Ultra High Definition (UHD) livestreaming and 360-degree instant replays. All of this technology is enabled by a large-scale implementation of a 5G network, which covers all of the venues and all roads and rail lines connected to them, according to sources. Also look for multi-camera live Virtual Reality (VR) coverage and more analytical data that is processed by AI.

Wearable tech will be used to optimize athlete performance and to detect fevers, reducing the spread of Covid.

Wearable Tech at Winter Olympics

Wearables have been game changers in the sports and fitness industries, including fitness-tracker products such as Whoop, which includes plastic parts made by our machining and molding services. The Winter Games are no exception. Performance monitors, fitness trackers, training devices and suits, and even wearable thermometers will be ubiquitous in Beijing, according to sources.

Those wearable microchip thermometers are yet another nod to pandemic safety. Each thermometer has a fingernail-sized chip that sticks to a user's skin to report any significant body temperature rises, allowing the medical and epidemic control teams at various venues and related sites to immediately identify any risks and react accordingly.

Refrigeration Tech Aims to Make Olympic Rinks More Eco-Friendly

Olympic organizers aim to reduce the Winter Games’ environmental impact, too. For example, the National Speed Skating Oval, known as the “Ice Ribbon,” will use refrigeration technology that allows for the temperature of the stadium’s nearly 130,000 square-ft. ice surface to be individually and precisely controlled through a carbon dioxide refrigeration system, enabling the entire venue to be used for multiple purposes simultaneously.

Compared to other refrigeration technology, a CO2 system does not damage the ozone layer, has a cooling efficiency that is 1.2 times higher, and is considered overall to be a high performance, low-energy consumption technology. The system's carbon emissions are said to be close to zero.

Monster Mike with CNC Machined part
Recently, we partnered with Monster Mike by machining components for the Moto Knee.

Monster Mike Returns to Paralympic Winter Games

Meanwhile, Minnesota-based Paralympian and multi-medal winner “Monster Mike” Schultz is headed back to the Paralympic Winter Games with the latest version of his own innovation, the Moto Knee, a cutting-edge prosthetic. Partnering with Protolabs machining service last year, Schultz created the components necessary for the Moto Knee, which he and his company, BioDapt, Inc., now build and customize for his USA teammates, fellow Paralympians, and other adaptive athletes worldwide.

Opening China’s ‘Great Firewall’ for Internet Access

Maybe the most important “innovation” at the Winter Games is China’s pledge of unrestricted internet access for foreign athletes. As some sources have reported, this would be a rare crack in China’s other notable great wall, its “great firewall.” For more than a decade, China has reportedly blocked access to various messaging apps, search engines, websites, and social media that were deemed to threaten national security. At least for a few weeks, internet-based communications will be unrestricted.

Ultimately, despite diplomatic boycotts and the disruptive presence of the pandemic, athletes will still strap on their skis and skates and carry on the Olympic spirit of international competition, helped along the way by innovative technological support. 


Eye on Innovation is a periodic look at new technology, products, and trends.