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Olympics to showcase technologies

If the progression continues, the Olympic Games might have to change its credo from "higher, faster, stronger" to "any edge I can get".

If the progression continues, the Olympic Games might have to change its credo from "higher, faster, stronger" to "any edge I can get".

Back in the day, almost 700 BC, Olympic athletes competed naked, maybe oiled up a little to reduce friction – "a sight pleasing to the Gods" was how Homer (the ancient Greek poet, not Simpson) put it.

These days, with athletes looking for any advantage they can get to run and swim and pedal a little faster, jump a little higher, and lift a little more weight, it’s all about the technology. From high-tech dimpled suits that shed air and water faster than skin, to carbon fibre bikes that are lighter than aluminium, to shoes that grip the track better and return some of the energy back to the runner, the race to the top of the podium is not a simple matter of athletics anymore. After all, medals are won in the margins, sometimes with split times measured in thousandths of a second.

And those are just the technologies that we can see. In training, national teams are using computers to track performance, study techniques, and help athletes make the most of their opportunity.

In June, Bell Canada brought their TechnoSport pavilion through Whistler to demonstrate some of the new technologies that athletes will be using in the future to stay in contact with coaches, doctors, psychologists, trainers, family members and other supporters, as well as store and review their own performance data. The crux of this exhibit (check it out at http://technosport.bell.ca) is that technology enriches the lives and enhances the performance of athletes.

Purists are spewing. Is it fair, after all, for one swimmer to wear a full body suit worth thousands of dollars that mimics the skin of a shark while everybody else relies on the traditional full-body shave and swim caps to shed water? What’s the difference between wearing shoes that give you a bit of bounce, and taking a drug that puts a spring in your step?

Defenders of these technologies are quick to point out that the suits, shoes, bikes and other technologies are generally available to everybody – clearly ignoring the fact that some nations are wealthier than others. Others believe that the technology is a side-benefit of the Games – technologies developed and used by Olympians and Paralympians could have benefits for all of humanity.

Others wonder if it’s even possible to take technology out of the Games. For example, some athletes are sponsored by certain companies or choose to wear certain clothes, shoes, etc. for reasons of fit or comfort, so it’s not always possible to force athletes to wear the same clothes and equipment.

And how exactly does a shoe go from being just a shoe to a high-tech running aid anyway? Is it the thickness of the sole? The density of the treads? The pounds per square inch of air in the heel?

This year most of the new technologies unveiled are geared to help athletes cope with the heat, which is expected to top 38 degrees Celsius during the Games.

The U.S. and Canadian teams are using a cooling vest to bring athletes’ body temperatures down prior to events. Put it in a fridge or freezer, and gel pockets located in sensitive areas will stay cold for hours.

Another device getting headlines measures lactic acid the same way that devices measure insulin levels for diabetics. By using this device after a workout or an event, trainers can tell how much stored energy an athlete has left, how much recovery time they need, and whether it’s necessary to boost lactic acid levels.

There’s no technology out there that can turn a dud into a champion, but when you’re among the top few in the world at any sport, the difference between first and second could literally come down to the shirt you’re wearing.

Norwegian continues to amaze with new hack

The big question this week is why Microsoft, Apple, IBM or any of the other computing giants haven’t hired Norway’s Jon Lech Johansen yet. The 20 year old is clearly a genius, already made world famous by his DVD encryption-cracking software (DeCSS), and a program that allows users to get around iTunes anti-copying program (QTFairUse). He made headlines once again last week, this time cracking an Apple program to allow other software applications than Apple iTunes to work with AirPort Express – a wireless networking system that allows you to broadcast music and data around the house. You can now use AirPort Express with virtually any software platform, sending data and digital music and video anywhere you want it. All you need is an Ethernet port, and you can also enjoy high-speed wireless computing from just about anywhere.

It’s an amazingly useful technology, no question, and because of Johansen you don’t have to be a Mac user to enjoy it.

If I were Apple CEO Steve Jobs, I’d hire Johansen tomorrow – better to have a guy like this on your side then to let him roam free.

Sharp LCD screen goes 3D

Although you probably want to be in standard 2D mode when filling out spreadsheets and surfing the Web, Sharp has developed a 3D LCD flat screen monitor that will allow users to play games, and view animations and movies in three dimensions without the use of special glasses or dual screens.

It accomplishes this feat by placing a liquid crystal "parallax barrier" in front of the LCD screen that angles the pixels towards either your left or right eye, fooling your eyes into seeing 3D. You can turn off the barrier at any time to revert the screen back to two dimensions.

The drawback is that your head has to be in the right spot to get the full effect, which means that it’s going to be a while before this technology appears in home entertainment system.

The new screen will be available on a limited basis in the near future at specialty stores. The display, available only as a 15-inch monitor, will retail for about US$1,499.

Once the screens become more common, expect game manufacturers to play along, creating bigger and better 3D effects.




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