The Silicon Valley tech behind the Rio Olympics

Nearly a month after Silicon Valley hosted the women’s gymnastics trials, the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio will be host to the most competitive global sporting events will include a whole lot of Silicon Valley.

Tech companies big and small are helping power the Olympic games this year from athletic apparel to health to payment solutions. Some are even hoping to advance the Rio area beyond just the two weeks of the games.

The Olympic games officially kick off on Friday and will run for two weeks. There are probably more Silicon Valley companies involved in the Rio Games than mentioned below, but these are the most notable ones.


Tech giants to stream content while training businesses to do so locally.

Menlo Park-based Facebook is using its social network platform to stream exclusive content while training local businesses how to use them for their own customers.

NBC, the broadcast rights holder of the Olympics, will publish highlights and recap videos of the 2016 events in Rio to Facebook and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. Some of these highlights will be exclusive to the two social networks such as a daily slow-motion video posted to Instagram. NBC Olympics will also use Facebook Live to live-stream broadcast interviews with athletes and commentators directly to Facebook.

Google has updated its Search features to enable users to “discover” things like the event schedule, medal counts and athlete information, the company said. The Google app on both Android and iOS will offer the ability for users to receive automatic updates on top events and medal wins. It also has detailed information on Rio venues in Google Maps and official broadcasters’ event highlights on YouTube.

The social network has also been running a business program in favelas, Brazil’s impoverished urban areas, to train entrepreneurs in Facebook Pages. Although most Brazilians are already digitally savvy in their personal lives, favelas are now learning how to leverage it for profit.

The goal, the company told me, is to help entrepreneurs leverage Facebook and Instagram as marketing platforms, so they can grow their businesses and create jobs. It launched the program to train small business owners in Sao Paulo at the beginning of last year, and expanded it to dozens of low income communities in Rio this year so people could seize the opportunities brought up by the Games.

The programs were led by local Facebook employees, supported by residents of the favelas.

In a city where 95 percent of residents speak only Portuguese, Google has spent the past four months also training local Rio businesses. The Mountain View company has been training 1 million tourist-facing businesses to use the Translate app in the lead up to the Olympics, the company said.

Google has also hired some of Rio’s local 300 favela residents to map businesses on Google Maps.

Gabriela Manzini, spokesperson for Google Maps in Brazil, told me that until 2014, there weren’t any favelas mapped on Google Maps but that Google has recently ramped up efforts with local hires. “Back then, whenever you looked at a favela in the map, it was a big, blank chunk in the middle of the city," Manzini said. "We partnered with a local NGO and hired people that lived in the communities to help us map the streets within them -- meaning the tiny alleys, squares etc. They also added to the map all of the small businesses they could find.”


Wearable technology is poised to make its biggest splash yet.

Athletes are about to get lit -- literally. U.S. Olympians will light up as they walk through the opening ceremony for the 2016 Rio Olympics on Friday thanks to illuminating outfit features engineered by Silicon Valley-based Flextronics.

The flag bearer, who is the first to lead all of his or her country's athletes, will flip a switch inside their Ralph Lauren jacket to light the way for following U.S. athletes as they enter the Maracanã Stadium on Friday, said the company in a blog post. Battery-powered electro-luminescent panels will light up the U.S. Olympic Team logo at the chest, ‘USA’ letters on the back (You can see a sneak peek simulation here).

Flextronics’ U.S. corporate headquarters are in Milpitas and it has manufacturing facilities in Morgan Hill. On Wednesday, swimmer and the most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps, was announced the flag bearer who will sport the jacket on Friday.

NASA spacesuit technology, which has reportedly been developed at Mountain View-based NASA Ames Research Center, will also be present in the 2016 games. Under Armour uniforms for the Canadian rugby and the Swiss and Dutch beach volleyball teams will utilize NASA spacesuit technology to reduce body temperature, according to multiple reports. The insides have crystal-pattern sheets to absorb heat from the body.

San Mateo-based Visa, which has been an official sponsor of the Olympic Games for some time, is for the first time utilizing wearables for payment systems at this year’s games.

Visa has collaborated on three new NFC-enabled wearables for payment systems, which includes a watch, a nylon band and a ceramic ring, the company says. Visa, which is the only payment accepted at the Olympic Games other than cash, will have NFC-friendly pay stations at 4,000 locations throughout Olympic Park.

“In our 30 years of sponsorship of the Olympic movement, this marks the first games where wearable technology and mobile technology will be widely implemented,” said Jim McCarthy, EVP, Innovation & Strategic Partnerships at Visa on its website.

The athletic band is sweat- and water-resistant and is also adjustable. The payment watch is a new line created specifically for the Rio games in collaboration with Swiss watch brand Swatch. The waterproof ring that Visa is giving out to the athletes is currently in the prototype phase only and won't be available to the public just yet. It comes in black or white ceramic bands in 20 sizes and does not require use of a battery. (You can see a demo of it here)

Two-time Olympic gold medalist for the U.S. soccer team Carli Lloyd and American decathlete Ashton Eaton, both of whom are sponsored by Visa, made visits to the company’s Silicon Valley offices earlier this year where the wearable technology was first unveiled. The company opened a new R&D center in Palo Alto in July.

As for existing wearables, those who already own an Apple Watch can now get a special 2016 Olympics edition band.

The Cupertino-based company created specialized Apple Watch bands in the colors of 14 major countries including America. However, They're only available in Brazil at Apple’s flagship store in Barra da Tijuca, according to multiple reports. It started selling the straps in early August and is likely to become a collector’s item. You can see all of the different straps on GQ’s website.


De-tech-ting potential health hazards.

San Francisco-based digital health startup Kinsa donated its smart thermometerto Olympians to supposedly track things like the spread of the Zika virus, according to a report by the San Francisco Business Times. The thermometer hooks up to a smart phone to monitor and store symptoms as they change. Doctors and teammates will then know if there’s a health problem on a specific team or in a specific area.

While not an official Olympics’ partner, the company donated its product to athletes, trainers and doctors who wanted to use it.

The app has a feature called Kinsa Olympic Village Group, which is location-based and anonymously aggregates data from other users in the Village, the Business Times reported. It then reports common symptoms and gives an overall health grade for the group. The app also has anonymous message boards to communicate about illnesses or symptoms they have.


Data and Security

The Brazilian Olympic Committee (BOC) has partnered with Cisco to manage the data networks that will run through the different venues. It will also be handling massive amounts of data by gathering information from each pitch, court and track as well as running internet connectivity for all of the athletes and staff, the company said.

The San Jose-based company will be plugged into 148 different Rio venues, holding the connections that power devices and every social media post. Cisco conducted trial runs in San Jose and has been training young engineers in Rio to manage the technology.

Intel is providing cloud services for volunteer management and communications as well as wide area motion imagery (WAMI) cameras, which the San Jose-based company says until now have only been used by the U.S. military, according to a report by technology news site Motherboard. Intel says the technology means that Olympic venues and their surroundings will be under surveillance even without security authorities directly watching.

“The Games always introduce new surveillance technologies that are designed to track local populations and identify potential threats,” Christopher Gaffney, a geographer and senior research fellow at the University of Zurich told Motherboard.

“In London, it was too early for the cloud because connectivity was not good enough,” Jean-Benoit Gauthier, technology and information director at the International Olympic Committee (IOC), told Motherboard. “But now, we have seen the evolution.”