Published in: VICE | MOTHERBOARD
By Donna Bowater | 07 June 2016

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The velodrome may be behind schedule and the new metro might not be fully operational but when it comes to technology, the Rio 2016 Olympics are about to break new ground. Because while all eyes will be on the track, field, and pool come August 5, the Games will be managed and secured from above in a “milestone” for the Olympics.

For the first time, key services such as accreditation and volunteer support will be managed through the cloud, as part of a transformation to allow future Games to be delivered completely digitally and remotely.

At the same time, Brazil’s Ministry of Justice has also invested in four aerostat-mounted wide area motion imagery (WAMI) cameras, which until now have only been used by the US military, allowing for real-time aerial imaging of a city-sized area.

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,” said Christopher Gaffney, a geographer and senior research fellow at the University of Zurich who specializes in mega-events. “However, the use of these technologies after the events is highly variable.”

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Jean-Benoit Gauthier, technology and information director at the International Olympic Committee (IOC), said the Olympics were “adapting to the technology evolution” inspired by increased connectivity since Beijing 2008 and London 2012.

The total IT budget for Rio 2016 is $1.5 billion and includes two systems: games management and results. Atos, the IOC’s longstanding IT provider, compared the operation to a “business of 200,000 employees addressing four billion customers, operating 24/7 and moving to a new territory every two years.”

But this time, all systems related to management of the Games—from HR to sports entries and qualifications—are in the cloud, reducing the number of physical servers from 1,000 to 250.

“In Beijing, it was the first time we really had smartphones,” Gauthier said. “When we got to London, it was the first time we really pushed for an app. Today, if we don’t have it, we are more or less outdated. In London, it was too early for the cloud because connectivity was not good enough. But now, we have seen the evolution.”

The systems being managed in the cloud include 300,000 accreditations, which use facial recognition and go through checks and clearances with police and immigration so they can be used in place of a visa. Provided by Brazilian telecoms company Embratel, the cloud is located in Brazil and has a primary and secondary data center for resilience and redundancy.

“The complexity of the Olympics is far, far beyond any other event”

Atos has given assurances that the cloud was as secure as the rest of its system.

“We put in place protections that go from programming rules based on security, we go through testing as well based on security, including penetration testing, before delivering the software in the cloud,” said Michele Hyron, chief integrator for Rio 2016. Then there is a second round of penetration testing that is organized by the organizing committee. We are comfortable to have secured the cloud as much as we are with the rest of the system we are using.”

Meanwhile, the technology for all 144 Olympic competition and non-competition venues will be supervised at the Technology Operations Center (TOC) at the Rio 2016 headquarters.

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Having completed 200,000 hours of testing last week with two full technical rehearsals, the 800m2 center will be trialing Atos’s new model with the support of a Technical Technology Operations Center in Barcelona, Spain. And as of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Games, all systems will be delivered via the cloud, making a physical IT testing lab in the host city no longer necessary.

Patrick Adiba, CEO of major events at Atos, said the systems would operate in the same way but would mean reduced cost and greater flexibility.

“With a cloud, you can pretty much reconfigure some applications that you deliver much more easily than you do in a fixed data center,” Adiba told me. “You can be flexible and you can increase the capacity. It’s almost unlimited.

“The challenge is really to get people to think virtually. People are used to working in a physical environment and they have to apply the same rules in a virtual environment.”

Adiba said the technology involved in the Olympics was “at least eight or 10 times” greater than the closest comparable event, the FIFA World Cup.

“The complexity of the Olympics is far, far beyond any other event,” Mr Adiba added.

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Last week, staff at the Rio 2016 TOC faced around 500 scenarios during the final technical rehearsal including a flood, network disconnection, power failures, changes to the competition schedule and security attacks, across 22 Olympic venues. The level of readiness was similar to London at the same stage in 2012, according to Adiba.

“It’s a very important milestone,” he said. “The shift that technology went through is related to connectivity and the fact that we’re more connected, and because we are more connected, we need more data and more rich data, everywhere, anywhere.”

Another system addressing the demand for more data is the set of Simera cameras provided by Logos Technologies, which have been compared to “live Google Earth with TiVo capability.”

Each unit has 13 electro-optical cameras in a cylinder that will be mounted on a tethered blimp, allowing the authorities to review footage of any incident while still tracking activity in real-time with updates every second.

Weighing just 40 pounds, the cameras will be flown 200 meters above the four main competition sites and will be used by Rio’s military police and municipal guard.

Deb Althoff, program manager for sensors at Logos, explained that a traditional camera might not be covering the right area if an explosion happens, and the subsequent image would be obscured by smoke. But the Simera camera captures the whole scenario without needing to be directed.

“We’re capturing that scene even if you’re not looking at it with your own eyes,” she explained, adding that the Simera unit could provide a “ton of information” when an incident is reviewed. “Here, you can follow multiple movers. It gives you a picture of all the things that are happening that are very important to the police and first responders.”

The system was originally built for use by the US Army in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the first model, the Constant Hawk, weighing 1,500 pounds and needing an entire aircraft.

“Issues of privacy, commercial use, and profiling are always present”

A lighter weight version, the Kestrel, was used at forward operating bases in Afghanistan from 2011 to monitor IEDs and help track down those who might have placed them.

“Along the way, we realized there was international interest in that capability and we developed Simera, which is a much lighter weight and portable version of Kestrel and has many of the same capabilities,” said Doug Rombough, vice-president of business development at Logos Technologies.

The system’s use in Rio for the Olympics will be its first application in a civilian context but Logos sees it being used in border and port security, disaster relief efforts, and even protecting wildlife at national parks from poachers.

“We’re really excited because we believe in WAMI as a technology that’s helped the military time and time again and we believe it’s like the tapestry on which you build all your intelligence,” Althoff added.

“You’re getting real-time on the street action. You know where people are standing, you know where the police are located, you know where your first responders are located, and when something happens, you’re able to respond really quickly.”

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From a height of 200 meters, each of the cameras will cover a 40m2 area around Olympic venues but while the 13 feeds provide extensive coverage, the trade-off is resolution, which means the system cannot identify individuals.

“The concept is very different,” said Bruno Avena, director of ALTAVE, the Brazilian aerospace partners. “What people want to see is identification of faces and all the details but this system is for a different purpose. You have an idea of everything that’s going on. It’s very important to see the big picture and to be able to act fast.”

Avena said the sensors capture 120 megapixels, the equivalent of 60 full HD TVs.

He said the cameras were able to cope with rain and had a maximum wind speed of 60 kilometers per hour. ALTAVE has also tested the system against gunfire given the use of lethal weapons by criminal organisations in Rio.

“We’ve done a lot of shooting testing with the aerostat,” Avena added. “We shot the aerostat 39 times to show that it doesn’t explode, it doesn’t fall down abruptly or expand from leaking gas so it’s a safe solution to use in a huge area such as the Olympics.”

Some 80 police officers and 20 municipal guards have been trained to use the cameras, which will remain in Brazil after the Games have finished—a hangover effect that concerns Gaffney.

“Issues of privacy, commercial use, and profiling are always present, and given the abysmal record of Rio’s police, more technology will not help to chance a culture of violence and repression,” he said.

So while the athletes are preparing to set new records in the stadiums, those behind the scenes are already setting new standards for technology.

“Around the world, you have a lot of connected devices, and more and more our challenge is to see how we can offer new services with all that data available,” Adiba added. “Rio is a cornerstone because we are working with all those new technologies to be able to deliver flawlessly future Games.”

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