Friday, September 19, 2008

Technology at the Beijing Olympics 2008

The 2008 Olympics at Beijing will without a doubt be the pinnacle story of the year 2008. The hype before the event, the protest by the Tibetan ‘revolutionaries’, then the opening ceremony the brilliance of which completely stunned the world, China taking an early lead at the games followed by the US, the tumbling of records courtesy of Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt and then the Closing Ceremony. China played perfect hosts and gave this generation a spectacle that will be remembered forever.

The theme of the Beijing Olympics revolved around Green Olympics, High-tech Olympics and People’s Olympics. The slogan ‘One World One Dream’ was exactly what was showcased. The stand out feature besides the sports was the obviously advanced technology that China put on display that made the world stand up and take notice. In this issue of Blitzkrieg we shall review this technology and try and understand how far we have come or how far China has come to entertainment perfection.


The Beijing National Stadium or the ‘Birds Nest’ today stands as the largest steel structure in the world. The architects for the stadium were Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron. It’s a neat 80,000 seater (the Wankhede stadium is a 40,000 seater) and took four years to be completely built. The initial plan of a retractable roof was later scraped to improve the structural stability during seismic disturbances. The Bird's Nest has its own lightning protection network due to its seamlessly welded steel structure. The membrane covering of the Bird's Nest is curved and double-layered, providing decorative, soundproof, wind-proof, rain-proof, and even UVA protection to its already impressive body. Pipes placed under the playing surface gather heat in the winter to warm the stadium and coldness in the summer to cool the stadium.

The Green Olympics

Tremendous efforts were taken to make the Olympics as eco-friendly as possible. They seemingly shuttered old blast furnaces, replaced torn up streets with subway lines, upgraded sewage treatment plants, they planted tens of millions of trees and pulverizing a nearby mountain for fresh soil. The Bird's Nest was rigged with an intricate rainwater-capture system to feed the infield grass. The National Aquatics Center (the Water Cube) is wrapped in a high-efficiency thermal polymer skin. The Olympic Village was outfitted with solar-powered showers. A fleet of electric buses along with 3000 lithium-ion garbage trucks was arranged. Even grim old Tiananmen Square now boasts energy-efficient streetlights. Phew! And after doing all of this there were still complaints about the city’s pollution problem. I guess some things never change.

The Opening and Closing Ceremonies

The Opening Ceremony truly set the stage for all the great things that were to occur at the Olympics 2008; the Closing Ceremony beautifully wrapped it all up. It is impossible to put into words the spectacle that was the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics 2008. The Bird’s Nest stadium was the venue for both the events. Beijing mobilized all its science and engineering capability, including satellite monitoring and cloud seeding, to prevent rain from spoiling the extensively expected Olympic opening ceremony on 08/08/08 at 8:08pm. The city officials fired 1,100 ‘rain rockets’ (laced with silver iodide to break the convective clouds) to help keep the rain at bay.

The performance itself was the responsibility of Zhang Yimou (a renowned film director). Thousands of drummers and people worked in perfect synchronicity with the help of monitoring systems that kept track of where everyone should be through identification codes. The ‘ShenZhou 4000’ control system used during space missions was used in the control center of the opening ceremony. A gi-normous 147 meter by 22 meter LED screen was laid at the centre of the ground embedded with over 44,000 coloured LED’s. The display is one of the largest in the world. Tiny Led’s were also embedded on the costumes of the performers.

A 55-second firework sequence of the Beijing sky was partly a computer generated graphic placed perfectly into the coverage at the perfect moment. Beijing used smokeless powder wherever possible for fireworks in order to reduce pollution . The ‘globe’ was made out of aluminium and rose from elevated platforms. Gymnast Li Ning was immortalized when he ‘space walked’ carrying the Olympic relay torch and finally lighting a wick that led to the cauldron atop the Bird’s Nest thus declaring the Beijing Olympics 2008 open. Images of worldwide torch relay were projected on the screen resulting in a breath-taking display.

The Games

We finally come to the actual sporting competitions which is what the Olympics are mainly about. The timing/measuring equipments had to be as perfect as humanly or robotically possible. Nowhere was this more apparent than at the 100m butterfly stroke (swimming) where Michael Phelps bagged his 7th Gold Medal by 1/100th of a second. The pool at the Water Cube was termed as ‘fast pool’ and almost all the record-breaking feats were connected with the Speedo LZR Racer. The LZR suit, designed with help from U.S. space agency NASA, keeps swimmers in a corset-like grip which is said to allow the swimmer to maintain the best body position in the water for longer duration and reduce drag.

RFID (radio frequency identification technology) was embedded in tickets and official accreditation passes. Journalists were for the first time able to navigate the Olympics INFO2008 system from their own laptop via a wireless network. About 4 billion people from more than 200 countries and regions watched the games on TV. China’s Netcom transmitted all the television signals by using high definition technologies. The Commentator Information System were made available to broadcasters in their country of operation, instead of at the Olympic venues. The commentators could access real-time results and data feeds, as if they were onsite.

China was the biggest winner at the Beijing Olympics, not just because they bagged 51 Gold medals and 100 medals in total, but also because they had the desire to show the world their greatness historically, financially, technically and ofcourse at the management and organization level. The Beijing Olympics of 2008 is a tribute to the people of China who made this event as grand as it was.

Reference : the Official Website of the Beijing Olympics 2008

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