VR & AR Goes For Gold At 2018 Winter Olympic Games

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You can experience the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in entirely new ways.

The 2018 Winter Olympic Games is getting a big technology boost when it opens on February 9th in Pyeongchang, South Korea. With plans to go where no other large scale sporting event has ever gone before, VR and AR will play a large role in giving fans unique one-of-a-kind viewing experiences.

Imagine standing on the edge of the half-pipe as Shaun White flies over your head, or watching the Women’s Russian Hockey team charge onto the ice between shift changes. To do this, NBC has partnered with Intel to broadcast 30 Olympic events in VR. 18 of them being live-streamed, while the remaining 12 will be broadcast the very next day through video-on-demand.

THE FANS

Looking to watch the Olympics from your home, at work, or even in the stands, now you’ll have a chance to be control how you view the games. You’ll have the ability to switch to various VR cameras thanks to Intel’s True VR camera technology that consists of twelve 4K cameras capturing footage in 360°. The VR Olympics is being delivered exclusively through the NBC Sports VR app on Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream, Windows, Android and iOS devices.

The 2018 Winter Olympic Games will have a “different approach,” according to Blake Rowe, Implementation Manager for Intel Sports. Fans will have the ability for a unique experience that lets them control how they experience the Olympics with 360° VR cameras at various points on ski courses to being transported to the stands.

Not only will you be able to watch the games in VR, but the opening and closing ceremonies will also get a VR treatment, letting you proudly enter Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium with the athletes that represent their countries.

Intel’s Olympic VR schedule can be found here.

THE ATHLETES

Not only is VR being used for the fans, but its playing a large part in training athletes prior to the Olympics as well. Back in 2016, Troy Taylor, U.S. Ski and Snowboard’s high performance director, discovered California based company, STRIVR, who worked with NFL, NBA and NHL athletes on VR training programs.

Now STRIVR and the U.S. Ski team have been training in VR to prepare for ski races, such as World Cup events, and now, the 2018 Winter Olympics.

“VR Training helps athletes prepare for a race by keeping the course fresh in their minds even when they aren’t on the course,” Danny Belch, VP of Marketing for STRIVR told VRScout.

Before VR, athletes would prepare in with what is called Inspection Day, a day where race organizers set up a course exactly how the course would be during the actual race. “You run through the course, take measurements, take photos and video of terrain – it’s an opportunity for the athletes to get a feeling of the course,” said Belch. “But then that’s it – you’re done and you leave and you can’t experience the course again until the day of the race.”

By re-creating the course in VR, now the athlete can continue to train past Inspection Day, keeping the course fresh in the athletes mind. “Each turn and bump become muscle memory,” said Belch. “Giving the athlete the necessary information to be prepared.”

Belch says the feedback from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard team has been incredibly positive. Each VR training session is edited down to “bite size” content to prevent VR fatigue with the athletes, this allows them to process information easier.

STRIVR primarily uses an Oculus Rift for their training, as well as Samsung Gear VR for the times when the team is on the road.

To help eliminate VR sickness, members of the ski and snowboard team also use wooden planks built on pads that turn like normal skis, along with headsets, to fully hack the brain into thinking your body is in actual motion.

Obviously Belch and the team at STRIVR are excited about the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, “we’re looking forward to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard team doing their best and enjoying one of the biggest days in their lives.”

ON THE GROUND

With all the talk about how VR will be a part of the Olympics, AR will also have a role with how fans and athletes navigate an unfamiliar city.

Though the athletes, games, and medal ceremony get all of the attention during the Olympics, there is also a huge part of the multi-day event that doesn’t get the spotlight; which is the hard-working volunteers who dedicate a lot of their time, energy, and own finances to help make the Olympics possible. Many of these people travel long distances, while some of them being locals, are working around their own personal schedules to be a part of something as huge as the Olympics.

This brings us to AR Ways, an app available for iOS and Android. AR Ways looks to be your personal Olympic information center as soon as you step foot into the airport, providing you with fast information on how get to board the right train, find Olympic event locations and even find your seat at the Gangneung Ice Arena for events like figure skating.

Simone Bonneville, a freelance interpreter and translator based in NYC, who was also assigned to the National Olympic Committee (NOC) of Tajikistan to provide language, cultural and logistical support during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, disagrees with the idea of AR being a tool used to help people get around. “Apps like this defeat the purpose of what I believe what the Olympics are about – which is this massive international and intercultural interaction that you have when countries all come together,” said Bonneville. “When I watched the demonstration video, I just saw a guy walking around a city looking directly at his phone.”

Bonneville admits that the app could be helpful in some ways, like navigating the city itself, but the Olympics are generally well-marked and self contained. “Volunteers, who come from all over the world – WANT to be asked questions, they WANT to show off their country (if local) – this app wouldn’t allow them to do that.”

She makes a very valid point, and perhaps this might be one place where immersive tech might not be a perfect fit, but either way, I think it’s always good to have a second layer of information; and this is where the app and AR would fit in nicely.

THE FUTURE OF THE OLYMPICS

This is the first time the Olympic Games will be getting this type of VR/AR overhaul, and it surely won’t be the last. After all, the Olympics happen every 4 years, putting the Summer Olympic Games in 2020 and the next Winter Games in 2022. It’s safe to say that VR and AR technology will continue to evolve with new ways for athletes to train, and new ways for the fans to be a part of the experience.

Imagine being able to experience a gold medal run; in real-time, from the point of view of the athlete immersed in VR. That sounds like a gold.

The 2018 Winter Olympic Games kick off on February 9th and come to an end on February 25th in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

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