When you think innovation and the Summer Olympics, you probably don’t think of architecture, medicine, media and fashion.
You should, since the innovations featured at the games are relevant in all of these fields. In terms of pure technology, the 2008 Beijing Games featured new computerized scoring and time-keeping technology and new motion-sensing and GPS tracking technologies. So, what are some of the most exciting innovations to watch out for at the London 2012 Summer Games?
Much has been made of the fact that the 2012 Games will be the first-ever "digital Olympic games" where viewers will be able to watch live sporting events on their iPads and smart phones. In 2010, just prior to the Vancouver Winter Games, Steve Jobsannounced the launch of the iPad. Fast forward two years, and as many as 1 in 5 U.S. viewers will follow the Olympics entirely on their computers, laptops, or tablets. To make that a reality, the BBC is promising to pump out a prodigious amount of video content: nearly 2,500 hours of coverage of Olympic events offered in a live, on-demand, interactive environment. On some days, you will be able to toggle between 24 different sporting events at one time. There will also be Web pages for every athlete, sport, venue and country. Viewers will also be able to use Olympic smart phone apps from BBC and NBC to keep up-to-date with all the breaking news and highlights.
Viewers will also be able to connect with Olympic athletes across social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, making this also the first "social Olympic Games" in history, at least according to Fast Co.Create’s Meg Carter. The launch of the Facebook Olympics hub has likely made the biggest splash, offering a way for viewers to connect with athletic icons such as Michael Phelps and Lolo Jones. Countries that may not finish high in the medal count can still tout which of their Olympians will be tweeting. In fact, 28 percent of U.S. viewers plan to follow the Olympics with friends and family via social media, chatting in real-time about events and athletes or “liking” performances. The new "social Olympics" means that it is not just the athletes from popular sports such as basketball or swimming that could end up with huge sponsorship deals later — a photogenic athlete with a command of Twitter and a single talked-about performance in an obscure sport might end up as a huge star too.
Beyond these innovations in digital technology, there will be new performance-enhancing innovations on display in London that may make their way to a sporting goods store near you soon. Nike, which is outfitting members of Team USA, is rolling out a number of new products to improve performance. The company is introducing new aerodynamic technologies that mimic the drag-reducing effect of golf ball dimples.
Innovation goes beyond the athletes to include the venue as well. London 2012’s emphasis on showcasing sustainable green venues for its sporting events may challenge us to re-think public architecture in new ways, just as Beijing’s Bird Nest challenged us to re-think the design of buildings. Who needs air conditioning when you have buildings that use a 100 percent natural ventilation system? (Alright, if you’ve spent any time in the Washington, D.C. area this summer, you might be skeptical about any building that's air-conditioning free.). Or how about buildings made from recycled construction debris? The London 2012 vision is to re-claim former industrial wasteland in the city by transforming it into a green park area.
The 2012 Olympics promises to do more than just raise the bar on what we expect from a shared viewing experience on TV and the Internet — it can challenge us to re-think how every company can use technologies from the Games in new and innovative ways. From fashion apparel companies to architectural firms, every company can take advantage of cutting-edge technology to deliver products that are innovative, sustainable and well designed. Innovations that deliver on all three of these are pure gold.
Dominic Basulto is a digital thinker at Bond Strategy and Influence (formerly called Electric Artists) in New York. Prior to Bond Strategy and Influence, he was the editor of Fortune’s Business Innovation Insider and a founding member of Corante.com, one of the Web’s first blog media companies. He also shares his thoughts on innovation on the Big Think Endless Innovation blog and is working on a new book on innovation called “Endless Innovation, Most Beautifuland Most Wonderful.”
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