At the London 2012 Summer Games, Olympic timekeepers Omega will unveil the latest technology that can measure an athlete’s performance to one thousandth of a second. Linda Milor, professor of electrical engineering at Georgia Tech, explains how this innovative timekeeping technology (video) will offer an unprecedented level of precision and accuracy.
Right now we are working with clocks that do calculations faster than we ever did before. The accuracy of today’s timing circuitry is one thousandth of a second, so it is 100 times more accurate than a stopwatch.
To be reliable, a timekeeping system must implement two key engineering principals – accuracy and precision. Meaning it must give measurements very close to the actual time and it must give those same measurements again and again.
The 2012 games will feature cutting-edge timekeeping technology from Omega.
For track events, the starter gun will be electronic and integrated into the timing system. The Swiss timekeeper will also be unveiling starting blocks modified with pressure pads to detect false starts. Speakers behind each of the set of blocks will amplify the pistol signal, ensuring each athlete hears the sound at the same time.
At the end of the race, runners will finish by running through a laser beam that sends a signal to the timing console to record each athlete’s time. High-tech cameras will also capture the finish, recording more than 2,000 digital images per second that can be put together almost immediately. The cameras allow us to get an image and see the results much more quickly than we used to in the past.
In swimming events, the starting blocks has been modified to allow even better starts and the Quantum Aquatic Timer can measure to one-millionth of a second.
High-definition video cameras above and below the water will provide a reliable back-up system to the electronic main systems. The photos taken by the cameras can play a key role in settling disputes in close contents.
For longer races, like marathons and road cycling, RFID tags will be used to time the athletes from start to finish. They are the next generation of the bar code that you have in the supermarket store for all your items.
The tags are attached to the athlete’s bike frame or shoe, and transmit the athlete’s ID to antennas set up along the course to track each athlete’s performance in real time. The detector then will identify which tag it saw and because we have very fast electronics, it can do many different tags almost at the same time.
With more than 3,000 athletes competing in 300 events at the highest levels, precision and accuracy in timekeeping are essential at the Summer Olympic Games. This cutting-edge technology will ensure the correct athlete is on the medal stand and allows us to cheer for the role science plays in the competition.
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