The Rio Olympics: An Exhibition of Electronics Engineering

August 20, 2016 by Dr. Steve Arar

This year’s Olympic Games extensively utilize wearables and sensors.

This year’s Olympic Games extensively utilize wearables and sensors.

Technology has allowed spectators and supporters to better track the performance metrics of athletes and see how faster or stronger the athletes are than before. This is possible because each Olympic venue and each event is filled with sensors.

Technology's Role in Training Olympic Athletes

Athletes have been employing technology in their training for many years; however, this usually took place in the high-tech environment of the lab and not in the natural conditions of the competition (e.g., the track field). It took a relatively long time to analyze the data collected in the lab and therefore athletes could not make immediate corrections during training. However, the recent low-cost implementations of wearables and sensors make real-time monitoring of performance possible.

Mounir Zok, the Director of Technology and Innovation for the U.S. Olympic Committee, believes that a coach can monitor and analyze the real-time performance metrics of the athletes and help them learn faster. The technology also can prevent some injuries.


Mounir Zok, the Director of Technology and Innovation for the US Olympic Committee. Image courtesy of the US Olympic Committee.


For example, if an athlete has already run 6 miles in a team event, then it would be a good idea to replace that athlete with a teammate before they pull a hamstring. Moreover, these data could help a coach to choose the best player for such a situation in a game.

Zok hopes that the next generation of athletic wearables will make use of more lightweight sensors such as smart tattoos and smart clothing in which sensing fibers are directly woven into the fabric.

VR and Contactless Payment at the 2016 Rio Olympics

The Rio Olympics uses the most innovative technology in areas such as virtual reality, the Internet of Things, cloud computing, and finances.

Virtual reality and augmented reality were immediately involved in Rio as the opening ceremony was broadcast in UHD virtual reality.

Moreover, the technology has completely changed the way athletes practice. Gwen Jorgensen, the world triathlon series champion, utilizes a Samsung Gear VR headset to learn every bump and turn along the cycling route in Rio.

In addition, the Rio Olympics are the first to use cloud technology to manage its IT sources.

The first payment wearable bands have been provided for the Rio Olympics. The contactless bracelets, which are based on the Near Field Communications (NFC) technology, can be used with all the 4,000 payment terminals at various facilities in Rio.


Image courtesy of Visa.

Sensors in Olympic Events

The Rio Olympics have employed a wide variety of sensors and equipment to increase the accuracy of decision-making. 

In freestyle swimming, automated digital lap counters (triggered by the swimmers touching a touch pad during their flip kicks) were placed at the bottom of swimming lanes.

Other sensors and equipment include precise measurements for archery and shooting competitions, laser range finders for golf, and intelligent nets for volleyball. But sensors have made especially dramatic changes to how contact-oriented Olympic sports, such as fencing and Taekwondo, are scored. 

In 2008, referees missed a clear point in the Olympic Taekwondo match between Sarah Stevenson of Great Britain and Chen Zong of China. After scrutinizing the video for an hour, they had to reverse their decision.

After Beijing, the World Taekwondo Federation introduced electronic scoring equipment. The socks are magnetized and proximity and impact sensors are incorporated in the chest guards and helmets. The sensor readings are wirelessly transmitted to the judges.

This technology significantly increases the transparency of the decisions. Now the athletes do not need to show the beauty of their movements and can simply focus on the efficiency of their blows.

Wearables Employed by Athletes


VERT Wearable Jump Monitor is a device which monitors your vertical position. Counting and analyzing the jumps, VERT can prevent injuries. According to Karch Kiraly, the head coach of US Women’s National Volleyball team, training loads can be tracked and controlled more precisely using IoT sensors like these.



Solos is eyewear with a high-resolution heads-up display which allows cyclists to monitor their real-time performance. 


Image courtesy of Solos.


Hykso is a wearable device which integrates into the boxing gloves and uses several accelerometers and gyroscopes to track the motions of hand during every punch. Recording hand positions 1000 times per second, Hykso helps the coach to better train the boxer by determining how fast punches are moving.


Image courtesy of Hykso.

Athlete Health

WHOOP is a wrist-worn device which uses some proprietary algorithms to improve the training plans. Ryan Lochte, Five-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming, believes that training for Olympics is not just about long hours of hard practices in the pool. A lot of the success comes from your recovery and sleep plans on which WHOOP can have a significant impact. WHOOP can also prevent injuries by measuring an athlete’s strain.

Image courtesy of WHOOP.



Technology will doubtlessly progress even further by the time the winter Olympics are hosted in Seoul in 2018. From how the athletes train to how their performances to measured to how we watch them compete, technology is taking a larger role in the Olympics.