7 examples of technology actually functioning at the Sochi Olympics


Czech Republic’s Sarka Pancochova takes a jump during the women’s snowboard slopestyle qualifying. (Sergei Grits/AP)

The urinals lack pipes. The hotel doors don’t work. The elevator shafts don’t always have elevators in them. Sure, the shower-monitoring technology may be working, but that’s disturbing. Here, in a change of pace, we offer you seven examples of useful technologies that are actually succeeding in Sochi.


Germany’s Lisa Zimmermann takes a jump during freestyle skiing slopestyle training. (Sergei Grits/AP)

1. The snow is not melting.

This is more of an accomplishment than you may think. Sochi’s subtropical climate makes it an unusually warm choice for a winter Olympics. In February 2013, World Cup events at Sochi had to be cancelled because there wasn’t enough snow. With climate change, ski resorts find themselves in peril. During the 2010 Olympics Vancouver dealt with snow shortages.

“I think they’re going to pull it off, but if you looked at just the weather you’d have picked some place else,” said Robin Smith, a snowmaking consultant with TechnoAlpin. “Basically every gimmick the snow making industry owns to make this the most efficient system possible, there’s been no money spared.”

Sochi’s organizers hatched a program called “Guaranteed snow.” Sixteen million cubic feet of snow was stored under blankets. As needed, it can be added to slopes.

Race conditions will be kept fair through a process called salting. Chemicals are applied to the top of the snow, which initially causes it to melt and then freeze. The hardened layer won’t develop ruts during a day of racing, meaning the course is more fair for everyone.


American speedskater Shani Davis shows off his speed in a training run. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

2. “The fastest speedskating suit ever.”

The dimples on a golf ball help it travel farther. The same tactic is being used on the suit. Via Rick Maese:

Under Armour partnered with Lockheed Martin, the Bethesda-based behemoth specializing in defense, security and aerospace, to build what is being called the “Mach 39.” … The new suits will surely be likened to the full-body swimsuits, which increased buoyancy and helped shatter records before they were banned in 2009. But the technology utilized by Under Armour is more akin to changes made to the javelin a quarter century ago. Designers added dimples and roughed up the texture on the javelin to increase tail drag. After the world record climbed by 37 feet in five years, the serrated javelin was outlawed in 1991.


(Columbia)

3. An ultra-lightweight zipper.

Freestyle skiers from the United States, Canada and Russia will be wearing jackets that feature the lightest-weight waterproof zipper in the world, according to Columbia, that company is trying to patent the technology. There’s no zipper tape, with the zipper bonded directly to laser-cut fabric.


Fireworks explode over the Fisht Olympic Stadium at the begining of the Opening Ceremony. (Alexander Nemenova/AFP/Getty Images)

4. Successful launch of fireworks. Nicely done, Sochi.


(Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)

5. Hockey socks that can’t be cut.

Every time hockey players step on the ice, they risk getting cut by sharp skate blades. Socks made of Kevlar and copper are being used to protect their calves and Achilles tendons. [Read more.]


(BMW of North America)

6. A carbon-fiber bobsled. Via Liz Clarke:

The sport’s rigid rules require sleds to weigh 170 kilos (roughly 375 pounds) but don’t specify how that weight is distributed.

By substituting lighter carbon fiber for Kevlar and fiberglass in crafting the shell, the engineers were able to reposition the weight elsewhere, resulting in a sled with a lower, more centralized mass.

They also worked on ergonomics: redesigning the handles that brakemen grab to give it the all-important push, as well as streamlining the interior so athletes have an easier “path” into the sled from their running start.

7. Using cryptocurrencies for donations. 

Indian luger Shiva Keshavan made it to Sochi with the financial support of Dogecoin donations. And while the Jamaican bobsled team’s luggage was unfortunately lost, they at least arrived with the help of Dogecoin. Via Caitlin Dewey:

The team had qualified for the games for the first time in 12 years, but couldn’t afford the $80,000 price tag of outfitting a sled and traveling to Sochi. The Internet quickly rose to the occasion, donating more than $40,000 to an official Indiegogo account and launching parallel campaigns on Crowdtilt and Reddit, where Dogecoin enthusiasts publicized their own cryptocurrency fund. (Dogecoin, you’ll recall, is basically a meme-ier version of Bitcoin.)

As of 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, the team had raised nearly $200,000 combined on the three platforms.

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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Matt McFarland · February 7