Raising the Olympic Games into the Cloud

Image courtesy of Takashi Aoyama

E-commerce giant Alibaba joined The Olympic Partners (TOP) programme at the beginning of 2017 with a long-term strategic agreement to transform the Olympic Games for the digital era. Now serving as the Official “Cloud Services” and “E-Commerce Platform Services” Partner, Alibaba is using its cloud technology to digitalise the Olympic Games and power them into the new era.

Alibaba Cloud, the digital technology and intelligence backbone of Alibaba Group, rolled out its vision for future Olympic Games during PyeongChang 2018. Leveraging cloud-based and artificial-intelligence-powered solutions, Alibaba Cloud set out to ignite the digital transformation of the Olympic Games to benefit fans, athletes, event organizers and media professionals. Said Chris Tung, Chief Marketing Officer of Alibaba Group, “The opportunity for technology to positively influence, shape and reimagine the Olympic Games experience is tremendous and we haven’t even scratched the surface yet.

“Over the next 10 years, Alibaba Cloud services will serve as the foundation of our efforts to drive the digital transformation of the Games, creating a more efficient and enjoyable experience for all audiences.”

These aspirations have taken on a greater significance in the current pandemic, where safety considerations and travel restrictions mean a very different environment from the Olympic Games in the past. Nevertheless, the Olympic spirit endures through the challenges faced.

The digital transformations in Tokyo 2020 supported by Alibaba Cloud include:

The Alibaba Cloud Pin: keeping social exchanges safe 

Olympic pins are among the many souvenirs sold to commemorate the sporting event and are traded by avid collectors and fans. However, their status goes beyond a mere collectible.

While many are available for purchase as souvenirs, others serve as identification for athletes, volunteers, members of organizing committees, and sponsors. They are often exchanged amongst sportspeople as a mark of friendship and goodwill, and avidly traded within a global community of enthusiasts, many of whom would travel down to the host city to physically swap tokens with each other.

Alibaba’s Cloud Pin adds a new digital dimension to this culture. Serving as a multifunctional digital name tag that can be worn as a badge or attached to a lanyard, the Cloud Pin enables users to meet and greet each other, add people to their ‘friend list’, and exchange daily activity updates, such as step counts and the number of friends made during the day. Users interact by tapping their pins together, which can be done at arm’s length to observe social distancing measures. Fulfilling playful tasks like making new friends unlocks the specific designs of each of the 33 sports on the Tokyo 2020 Programme.

To activate the pin, users simply need to download a Cloud Pin application, and pair it with the wearable device via its Bluetooth function. These pins will be given as a token to the media professionals working at the International Broadcast Centre (IBC) and the Main Press Centre (MPC) during the Olympics.

OBS Cloud: transforming media for the digital age

In 2018, Alibaba Cloud, in collaboration with the Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS), launched OBS Cloud, an innovative cloud-based broadcasting solution that operates entirely on the cloud, helping transform the media industry for the digital age. Offering all the necessary cloud components to support the demanding content production and delivery workflows of broadcasting the Olympic Games, OBS Cloud provides increased flexibility and scalability for broadcasters setting up, testing, and commissioning their on-site systems in the host markets.

Tested at the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games as well as the Lausanne Youth Olympic Games in 2020, the technology will be made available, for the first time, to all broadcasters at Tokyo 2020.

This grants access to a variety of short-form, ready-to-air content produced by OBS, and designed specifically for digital and social media platforms. Broadcasters can also set up their own content creation, management and distribution on the new system. They will also have, after the Games, the flexibility to move their deployment home or keep the asset within OBS Cloud for future Olympic events.

The accelerated digitalisation allows a forecasted increase in footage, despite fewer broadcasters present as a result of travel restrictions, inoculation, and quarantine requirements necessitated by the pandemic. Additionally, press conferences will be available on the cloud for affected journalists who cannot make it to Tokyo.

Tokyo 2020 Make the Beat! : returning spectators to the centre of the action

Image courtesy of Takashi Aoyama

Beyond serving the media broadcasters that offer sports coverage, Alibaba’s cloud solutions also service the global community of fans, many of whom are restricted from attending this year’s games in order to reduce pandemic-related health risks for spectators and locals alike.

One project it enabled was “Make the Beat!”, launched in the run up to the Games. Global fans were invited to listen to the 2020beat track and create a roughly 15-second video clip of themselves clapping, dancing or performing in tune with it to cheer on their athletes.

After the videos were uploaded to social media platforms with the hashtag #2020beat, they were automatically collected and filtered by the cloud-powered content curation solution. This also screened out any inappropriate content through a two-tier approach including automated systems and manual checks.

Following this, the videos were split and fit to a prepared template for easy editing during the video creation stage. A number of formats were then generated for a range of different potential outputs and made ready for screening on multiple platforms, whether a stadium screen or a smartphone.

It allows them to create a global cheer for the teams and athletes they support and see their videos broadcast in world-class venues and on the World Wide Web.

Other ways that Alibaba is enhancing fans’ experience include integrating three Olympic Games-related websites onto a single, cloud-based platform. The new centralized platform promises enhanced efficiency, stability and security of the online portals, including the official website of the IOC, the Olympic Channel and the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.

Officially launched on April 29, the channel will strive to keep Olympic sports and athletes relevant in the years between each Olympic Games and attract new, younger audiences to a sports movement.

3DAT: enhancing our view of the games

Hosted on Alibaba Cloud and leveraging Intel’s technology, 3D Athlete Tracking (3DAT) gives audiences professional insights into athletes’ performance as it happens. Without the need for motion tracking sensors, 3DAT leverages standard video, AI and Computer Vision to extract over 20 points in 3D on the athlete’s body, transforming that data into rich visualisations to enhance broadcasters’ storytelling for key Athletics sprinting events.

Heatstroke prevention: covering participant’s health

Japan’s summers are hot and humid, making the risk of heatstroke a serious concern to Olympic onsite staff. Alibaba addresses this with a newly developed solution – an intelligent ear-worn device that helps keep track of the body temperature and heart rate of the Olympic onsite staff in Tokyo.

Based on the body temperature, heart rate and the environment index, a cloud-based system will identify the level of heatstroke risk in real time for individual working staff. Alerts will then be sent to those being exposed to a high level of risk along with recommended precautionary measures – such as drinking more water – to reduce the chances of getting heatstroke. The heat index in the surrounding environment including temperature, humidity and direct or radiant sunlight will be monitored through multiple heat stress WBGT (Wet Bulb Globe Temperature) meters set up at 14 Olympic competition venues.

Transforming the future of sports entertainment

The digital makeover supported by Alibaba Cloud helps media broadcasters transmit the world’s largest sporting event to fans, facilitates the sale of merchandise online, and supports athletes’ training and recovery. All these keep participants safe and motivated as well as sustain the engagement of global spectators through the Coronavirus pandemic.

In the long term, the updates that Alibaba and other partners are rolling out at Tokyo 2020 could transform the way sports entertainment is organized. “Leveraging our leading cloud technology, we hope to contribute to the safe and smooth operation of the Olympic Games,” said Selina Yuan, General Manager of International Business Unit, Alibaba Cloud Intelligence. “We believe our stable, resilient, elastic and secure cloud computing infrastructure will help digitalize the Olympic Games in various ways and
bring new experiences to everyone involved.”