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Alibaba Cloud was a star player behind the scenes in this year’s Tokyo Olympics, here’s how

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[This is sponsored content with Alibaba.]

Back in 1964, satellite technology was used for the first time in Olympic broadcasting history, to broadcast the games to a global audience. Since then, tech has come a long way and this year marks yet another milestone in Olympic history.

We managed to witness our nation’s athletes such as Lee Zii Jia, Azizulhasni Awang, Aaron Chia, Pandelele Rinong and others, represent Malaysia in real-time thanks to cloud technology. Alibaba Cloud, the cloud computing arm of Alibaba Group, was one of the key players in building the stepping blocks that shifted the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 into the digital era.

1. Bringing forth an innovative change in Olympic broadcasting

The usage of cloud technology in media and broadcasting is not exactly new. Services like Netflix and Spotify with millions of users have relied on cloud technology ever since their inception. 

By leveraging cloud technology for broadcasting, OBS (Olympic Broadcasting Services) reduced the footprint of their broadcasting centre by 30%, compared to Rio Olympics in 2016. Especially with the pandemic still ongoing, having fewer employees present on-site can cut down the potential of an outbreak. 

That said, the move to broadcasting via cloud was not a pandemic knee-jerk reaction by OBS. They’ve partnered with Alibaba Cloud to create OBS Cloud back in 2018, and have tested its capability in previous Youth Olympic Games.

Yiannis Exarchos, the CEO of Olympic Broadcasting Services, said this partnership with Alibaba Cloud had transformed how they broadcast the games. He emphasised that “this [cloud-based broadcasting] is perhaps the biggest technological change in the broadcasting industry for more than half a century since the introduction of satellite transmission.”

With OBS Cloud, the broadcasting committee created, stored and managed nearly 9,000 short-form content clips on their platform. The RHBs (Rights-Holding Broadcasters), who have signed on for specific services, could then retrieve the clips instantly from any of their global facilities through the internet.

The subscribed RHBs will then have access to all the clips recorded and stored on Content+, an online platform supported by cloud infrastructure. They could then post them immediately on their own media platform, or mark them for post-production just as the games happen in real-time.

Note: In Malaysia, Astro, RTM and Unifi TV are the official broadcasters for Tokyo Olympics 2020.

2. Sensor-less tracking capability for athletes

Aside from just recording the games, cameras play an important role during the Olympics too. Cameras can be called to capture the precise moment when an athlete crosses the line, in what the industry calls a “photo-finish”.

However, 4 of the cameras pointed at the athletes during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 were doing something completely different. They were tasked to track the athletes’ motion and form, all without the athletes wearing sensors or trackers.

3DAT (3D Athlete Tracking) was a technology born from a partnership between Intel and Alibaba Cloud. 3DAT cameras will then gather biomechanical data of the athletes and through Intel computing technology, the data will be analysed and transformed into overlay visualisations shown during replays.

An example of the overlay / Image Credit: Intel

3. Protecting the on-the-ground staff members

While most of us enjoyed the games from the comfort of our homes, the athletes, coaches and staff members had to withstand one of the hottest Olympics in history.

The months of July and August were predicted to be the hottest for the nation, going as high as 35-degrees. It was so hot and humid during the event that one of the archers collapsed while checking their final score.

But the athletes were not the only party subject to the heat, as staff members had to endure the blazing temperatures too. To help prevent the staff members from heatstroke, Alibaba Cloud created and equipped them with an in-ear device that could track their body temperature and heart rate.

The in-ear device, along with the mobile app showing the other stats / Image Credit: Alibaba Cloud

The body temperature and heart rate gathered from the device will then be sent to the cloud, and if the staff is at risk, they will then receive an alert along with precautionary measures to reduce the chance of them falling victim to the heat.

4. A safer method of enamel pin trading

On top of the shiny medals, tiny and colourful enamel pins were also worn as badges of honour at the Olympics. Pin trading was seen as a long tradition that dates all the way back to 1896. Sadly, because of the pandemic, pin enthusiasts might have to see their tradition wither away.

Olympics pin trading back London 2012 Summer Olympics / Image Credit: Samantha Brough on Wikimedia Commons

With this in mind, Alibaba Cloud believes they can keep the tradition alive for the media professionals who are working hard on-site. Thus, they came up with a solution that allows for pin trading while keeping a safe distance. They introduced the Alibaba Cloud Pin which doubles up as a name tag device and a social device in one.

When two user’s devices are tapped together at arm’s length, the users’ contact details will be exchanged automatically. Both users will then be able to exchange daily updates, compare step counts, among other social features.

Users could also customise their Cloud Pin to feature different artworks and so on, to make it their own unique identification device.

Chris Tung, the CMO of Alibaba Group believes cloud technology will play a major role in the next few Olympic Games to come, to create a level playing field through technology and a better experience for broadcasters, partners, fans and athletes. And they’ll be able to continue supporting the Digital Transformation journey of the Olympic Games, having signed on a 12-year partnership with the International Olympic Committee back in 2017.

  • For more info on Alibaba Cloud, click here.
  • Read up on what we’ve written about Alibaba Group in the past here.

Featured Image Credit: International Olympic Committee (IOC) / Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS)

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