Vancouver 2010 Olympics: A geeks' guide

Medals made from electronics and a list of tweeting Olympians highlight this list of tech touches you may not have noticed.

Chris Helgren/Reuters
The Olympic rings are seen illuminated on a barge moored off Stanley Park before the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics on Friday.
The 2010 Vancouver Olympics gold medal design, partially constructed of reclaimed gold from consumer electronics, and laser-etched, is shown.

When the Vancouver Olympics' kicks off tonight, launching the world into two weeks of winter sports competition, it's safe to say this'll also be the start of the most technologically advanced Olympics ever.

Some of the tech touches will be obvious – timekeeper Omega has brought in 250 tons of equipment to keep a close eye on who's taking home gold, silver, and bronze. But others are more nuanced. Here's a look at some top-notch Olympic and winter-sports tech.

Medals' modern metals

This is the first year that the medals won by Olympic athletes will be made of reclaimed precious metals – recycled from consumer electronics. Canadian mining company Teck Resources shreds, crushes, and melts old circuit boards, collecting the trace amounts of the good stuff in its molten state. Depending on where you live, part of that gold medal around an Olympian's neck next week could've once been sitting in your living room. Each medal is unique, and designs are laser-etched into the surface.

Think it

Cities get all dressed up to host the Olympics, but Canada is taking the Olympic touches nationwide. As part of its Olympics makeover, three Canadian landmarks – Toronto's CN Tower, Ottawa's Parliament building, and Horseshoe Falls – will get bathed in colored light that's controlled by, well, brain waves. We've seen video games, even a wheelchair controlled by thoughts. Visitors to Vancouver's Ontario House can don a headset that measures the brain's alpha waves, associated with relaxation, and beta waves, associated with concentration. CNET has the scoop:

By focusing or relaxing, a signal is sent to a computer, which then associates a change in the lights with that thought and transmits it over the Internet to one of the three light shows.

Tweet away!

The NFL doesn't look kindly on its players tweeting from the sidelines or locker room. But Olympic athletes have no such restrictions. Twitter has compiled a list of 100 tweeting Olympians, including US alpine skier Lindsey Vonn, who earlier this week used the microblogging service to keep her followers up to date on how her shin is healing after a training crash threatened her chances of participating in the Olympics. Follow @Lindseyvonn and the rest of the verified Olympian accounts here.

That's a lot of power strips

For you infrastructure geeks (come on, we know you're out there), CIO has a cool slideshow walkthrough of the tech backbone of the Vancouver Olympic Games. What's it take to keep things running smoothly? Try 800 servers, 6,000 computers, and 4,000 printers, and miles of cabling to start.

Goggles from the future

Skiing and snowboarding have long been at the vanguard of high-tech sports. We've seen carbon fiber snowboards, piezoelectric ski inserts, and the more pedestrian bluetooth-enabled helmet for wireless tunes and talk on the slopes. Apologies to all of those, (and this list of Olympics tech – these won't be in Vancouver) but the Transcend Goggle from Zeal, out next October, takes the cake for coolest tech-meets-snowsports gadget. Boasting a heads-up display (HUD) that gives the wearer stats about speed, altitude, GPS coordinates, and a host of "future features," the $350 peepers look like something out of a video game. HUDs are used most commonly by fighter pilots, but we're glad to see them trickling down to more normal pursuits. Bonus: they don't look that different from the specs we currently sport for our snow-sliding fun.


Check out the Monitor's full coverage of these Olympic Games, including tweets from reporter Christa Case Bryant (@chrstacasebrynt), and while you're in a tweeting mood, follow us @CSMHorizonsBlog.

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