Innovation

How wearable tech will help Winter Olympic athletes skate faster and stay warm

Some athletes at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang will be wearing self-warming jackets from Ralph Lauren, as well as the Samsung SmartSuit designed for speed skaters.

This is the year that wearable tech will be at the forefront of the Winter Olympics, with major fashion and tech brands bringing their connected clothing to athletes in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Technology has played a role in the Olympics in recent decades, but it's been a bit more stealthy and behind the scenes. In the four years since the last Winter Olympics, clothing with sensors—which fit into the general tech category of wearables—have become accessible to the mainstream market. Nowadays, it's just as likely that your neighbor jogging down the street will be wearing Sensoria's smart socks or Runtopia's smart running shoes as it is for a professional athlete to be wearing smart tech.

The exposure that the products get during the Olympics will help bring the concepts to the forefront for the mass market, and could lead to quicker adoption, according to Ramon Llamas, research manager for the International Data Corp's wearables team.

SEE: Wearable Device Policy (Tech Pro Research download)

Ralph Lauren Team USA warming jacket

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Image: Ralph Lauren

Team USA will be wearing a new self-heating warming jacket from Ralph Lauren. They'll be wearing the red, white, and blue high-tech parka during the opening ceremonies.

The jacket uses a process developed exclusively for Ralph Lauren, and has a heating system made from electronic printed conductive inks, printed in the shape of an American flag in carbon and silver ink and bonded to the interior of the jackets. The printed conductive inks are flexible and stretchable, and connect to a battery pack with three settings. The jackets are water-repellent and the battery pack will last for 11 hours at full charge and provides immediate heat. The heating setting can be selected via an app.

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Image: Ralph Lauren

"Ralph Lauren is excited by the convergence of fashion and function, and we are committed to supporting Team USA athletes by outfitting them with the latest innovative technology," said David Lauren, chief innovation officer for Ralph Lauren, in a press release.

According to Llamas, there is a potential for this product in the mainstream market.

"This is one of those things that millions of consumers would like see, and even enterprise users, for that matter," he said. "Personally, I'd like to try one of these things on and see if it works, because having something like this, whether I'm snow shoveling my driveway, playing outside with the kids, or going skiing or snowboarding, I think this is something that a lot of people would at least be interested in. Let's face it, there's a number of other companies out there who make clothing for the elements that would perhaps like to leverage this kind of technology too."

The jacket was available for sale to the public on the Ralph Lauren website, but it quickly sold out.

Samsung SmartSuit for speed skaters

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Image: Samsung/Sebastiaan Rozendaal

Dutch short track skaters Sjinkie Knegt and Suzanne Schulting have their own secret weapon for the Olympic Winter games—they'll be wearing the Samsung SmartSuit during training. They're currently the only skaters in the world using the suit. It's only allowed during training, per official International Skating Union rules, not during actual competition.

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Image: Samsung

The SmartSuit is a custom-made short track skating suit with sensors that measure the skater's precise body posture so that it can calculate the distance from their hips to the ice. Dutch skating coach Jeroen Otter uses a smartphone to access the data from the suit and make sure the skaters are bent over enough within a millimeter of accuracy. If they're not, he can press a button that sends a vibration to the skater's wrist to alert them to adjust their posture.

"By quantifying the skater's body posture, we can train even more effectively. I've already noticed that Sjinkie and Suzanne have benefited from this unique innovation," Otter said in a press release. "At the championship level, it's all about the details. Training with the Samsung SmartSuit and the immediate feedback via the smartphone can make the difference between silver and gold."

Samsung made these suits just for the two skaters, but the company is exploring the possibility of developing the technology further, based on feedback from the Olympics, according to a Samsung spokesperson.

"I always used to skate by intuition, so I had to guesstimate whether I'm bent deep enough," Knegt said in a press release. "But now, my coach can see precisely if I have to bend just a bit deeper to find my ideal posture."

Llamas said that while the SmartSuit isn't available for the average consumer, "the value prop is really interesting in that it can trap what an athlete is doing down to the last millimeter, which I think is tremendous, and all the information they can glean from that if you're an athlete, because let's face it: In the Olympics more than anywhere else, hundredths, or thousandths, or ten thousandths of a second is the margin of victory. To have that information available to you, it's going to help some people."

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About Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including Peo...

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