Research for the Games

Georgia Tech has forged strong ties to Atlanta's 1996 Olympic Games


Compiled by Lea McLees

Contributors: Rick Robinson, Mark Hodges, David Kennedy, Susan McDaniel, Toni Mills, Jackie Nemeth, Victor Rogers


IT'S LATE JULY 1996, and a tired but excited visitor is among 2 million people arriving at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport. She's spent a long day in her New York office, but is ready to work, entertain and enjoy the Olympic Games with some of her firm's clients.

Our visitor stops at an information kiosk in the airport to determine the best way to reach her hotel. On her second evening in town, she receives some brochures from her boss that arrived in Atlanta via a helicopter landing at a vertiport. Later in the week she wows her clients with tickets to a diving competition. She plans a second trip to the city in late August, to watch a friend compete in the Paralympics track and field competition.

Each of this imaginary visitor's diverse activities has one thing in common: Georgia Tech research. The Olympics will showcase not just Georgia Tech's role as Home of the Olympic Village and site of the boxing and swimming/diving venues; Georgia Tech's mission of conducting world-class research for the global village will be highlighted as well. Read on for examples of Georgia Tech's research contributions to the Olympics and the Paralympics. (For Olympic timeline, see The Olympic Games In History)

In the Beginning

Georgia Tech's research role in the 1996 Summer Olympics began long before Atlanta won the bid to host the games.

With assistance from Georgia State University and several private companies, researchers in 1989 created a high-tech multimedia interactive program for the 1990 final proposal to the International Olympic Committee in Tokyo. The presentation won a Computerworld Smithsonian Award in 1992 and a New Media Invision Award in 1994 for its innovative use of information technology.

The presentation featured computer-generated renderings of proposed buildings with realistic textures of brick, grass and other materials. Viewers saw the proposed Olympic Village from an altitude of about 500 feet. The presentation also allowed them to "fly" around the buildings and visit their imagined furnished interiors, as well, says Michael Sinclair, director of Georgia Tech's Interactive Multimedia Technology Center.

"As far as we knew, nothing like this had been done before for a major marketing effort," Sinclair recalls. "We started with [head of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games] Billy Payne's crazy, long-shot idea, very little time and money, and really no idea of what we were going to do -- but it had to be high tech, and it had to provide a lot of information in an entertaining and interactive fashion."

Using the creative minds of the project members and many volunteers, the researchers put together two interactive systems.

"The first was a flight simulator that allowed you to fly around Atlanta via a trackball, visit the proposed venue sites and tour them," Sinclair explains. "The second system was a wide angle 'wrap around' affair that featured the proposed Olympic village/Georgia Tech campus."

The interactive part of the second system was a small plastic three-dimensional model of the village illuminated with computer graphics. It pulled up specific vignettes about a day in the life of an athlete when a particular building or area was touched.

The Olympic projects relied on cutting-edge computing technology, incorporating three videodisc players, three computers, computer-composed music, digitized narration and the touch-sensitive interaction system. A Commodore Amiga computer controlled the presentation, along with an Apple Macintosh IIcx and a smaller computer interface device.

"Computer technology has come a long way since the Olympic effort," Sinclair says. "Back then, we had to program our own multimedia authoring system, as there were virtually no multimedia presentation systems capable of orchestrating in real time the many processes required."

Computers are also much faster, and more affordable today, allowing video to be played directly from a hard disk instead of from expensive videodisc players, he notes.

"Sophisticated authoring systems take a lot of the drudgery out of producing an interactive media presentation," Sinclair explains. "High-end computer graphics are no longer relegated to the high-priced workstations, but can now be developed on low-cost PCs. Future hardware and software multimedia development systems will make it much easier to author productions, freeing the creative producer from having to possess intimate knowledge of inner workings of the hardware and software. The lower cost and increased power of tomorrow's computers should make the playback and interaction much faster, smoother and more enjoyable."



Shining Light

A team of Georgia Tech engineering professors and graduate students breathed life and fire into the conceptual design of the 1996 Olympic torch. Based on an artistic design by Malcolm Gear Associates, the engineers developed a 3.5-pound torch that will burn for 45 minutes without refueling and will be able to withstand wind, rain and dramatic temperature and elevation changes along its 15,000-mile journey to Atlanta.

The team included mechanical engineering professors Dr. Sam Shelton and Dr. Lee Durbetaki, industrial design professor Lee Payne, and graduate students Andy Delano, Kevin Berry and David Craig.

"Each of the past 21 Olympic torches is different," Shelton said. "The host city has a lot of pride of ownership in the creation of the torch. Other than the winning athletes' medals, it will be the most tangible symbol taken away from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics."

The 1996 torch is about 32 inches tall and 2.25 to 3.5 inches around. Its crown comprises 22 outwardly spread prongs, representing reeds -- one for each of the 21 previous Olympic host cities and one for Atlanta. The handle is made of Georgia pecan hardwood, capped with two gold rings on each end. Two gold collars bind the upper reed body and lower Greek column; one collar lists the host cities and one features the Olympic "quilt of leaves" motif.

The torch is further secured by a threaded tube feeding the fuel from the propane tank in the lower body column up to the burner in the crown at the top. A burner system ensures that the 12-inch flame resists wind and other natural elements.

Most parts will be aluminum and gold-plated brass, but some interior fuel valve components will be injection-molded plastic, to keep the torch lightweight.

The first five prototype torches were made on campus. Now, American Meter in Erie, Penn., is assembling more than 10,000, so each torch relay runner can purchase the torch he or she carries.

Tracking Traffic

The Olympics will bring more street vehicles than usual to Atlanta -- cars, delivery trucks, buses, bikes and more -- but the city is getting ready, with help from Georgia Tech. The Institute is participating in development and evaluation of the Atlanta Driver Advisory System (ADAS) and Advanced Traveler Information System that will operate during the 1996 Games. This public/private project is headed by Scientific Atlanta, Inc., with major participation by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), and sponsorship by the Federal Highway Administration.

Under ADAS, 200 specially equipped vehicles supplied by GDOT and Federal Express will receive information about congestion, incidents, weather and special- events data over RF links. A network of 220 Mhz transceivers and a subcarrier from a commercial FM broadcast station will provide the links. The data will originate in the Advanced Traffic Management System being developed by GDOT, says Bill Youngblood, deputy director of Georgia Tech's Transportation Research and Education Center.

"While this is mostly a technology evaluation, we also will be looking at whether the ADAS can contribute to improved mobility of these drivers, and whether it can provide useful traffic flow information to the ATMS during the Olympic period," says Youngblood, a Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) senior research engineer.

GTRI is providing testing, analysis and modeling of the 220 Mhz propagation in rural, suburban and urban environments, as well as development, implementation and analysis of error- correction techniques for use in the 220 Mhz transceivers. The Transportation Research and Education Center is leading the evaluators in the operational test of ADAS:

This material is based on work supported by the Federal Highway Administration under Grant No. DTFH61-95-X-00015. Opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the FHA's views.

High-Tech Traveling

Need to know how to reach your hotel, the airport or an Olympic venue in Atlanta? By this summer, you'll be able to get the information you need from a computerized kiosk.

The kiosks will provide services such as notification of traffic congestion and incidents on Atlanta interstates; route planning via highway and MARTA; special events information such as Olympic venues and sports scores; and weather, travel and tourism information for the area.

Georgia Tech's Transportation Research and Education Center is leading evaluation of the system of traveler advisory kiosks to be installed in Georgia in time for the 1996 Olympic Games.

"We will be looking at several characteristics," says Bill Youngblood, deputy director of the center. Among those characteristics:

The system is being developed by JHK & Associates in Norcross, Ga., and San Diego- based Science Applications International Corp., under the guidance and program management of the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT). The kiosk system will be owned and operated by GeorgiaNet, an authority that will centrally market and sell electronic access to authorized public information to public and private consumers.

Flying High

Atlanta will be a haven for helpful helicopters during the 1996 Olympics. The Georgia Tech Research Institute's (GTRI) Aerospace Sciences Laboratory is a partner in a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-sponsored project to explore the operation of helicopters in a congested urban area. These helicopters will be equipped with a Global Positioning System for navigation, tracking and communication. Helicopters will take off and land from Atlanta- area "vertiports," providing local and regional transportation of packages, documents and a limited number of passengers.

The vertiports will accommodate commercial as well as law enforcement and emergency evacuation aircraft. The Olympics period is expected to provide an excellent simulation of urban transportation requirements during peak periods -- offering a good test environment for gathering operational data, says senior research engineer Chuck Stancil.

Working with the FAA and NASA, GTRI investigators will plan flight trajectories and approaches to selected landing sites. They also will position acoustic sensors for collecting noise data. Collecting aircraft acoustic footprints and analyzing and documenting the resulting data will help establish FAA certification criteria for vertical flight infrastructure in urban areas.

Almost Like Being There

If you watch the whitewater events on television this summer, you may see one of the fruits of Georgia Tech's computer simulation capabilities: A "fly-through" of the Olympic whitewater events venue has been completed by the Center for Geographical Information Systems and Spatial Analysis Technology, housed within the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI).

The full-color simulation, sponsored by the Cherokee National Forest, is expected to be seen extensively on network television. It will orient viewers whenever Olympics coverage shifts from Atlanta-area sports venues to the whitewater venue in the Ocoee River region of Southeastern Tennessee.

GTRI developers integrated data from the LANDSAT satellite, high- altitude and low- altitude photography, and U.S. Geological Survey elevation information into the simulation. In addition to depicting the whitewater course as it will appear for the 1996 Games, the simulation accurately displays roads, towns and other topographical features -- this will help travelers who are new to North Georgia/Southeastern Tennessee.

IOC Research: A Longtime Partner

Olympics research is a familiar pursuit for Dr. Robert Gregor, professor of Health and Performance Sciences. He has been a member of the Subcommission on Biomechanics and Physiology of the International Olympic Committee's Medical Commission since 1981. Gregor and Georgia State University colleague Dr. Ben Johnson, liaison to the Subcommission for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, are directing 14 sports research projects to be conducted this summer by researchers from institutions all over the world. They are working with the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games.

"We have projects in swimming and diving, gymnastics, track and field, equestrian events, tennis, baseball and softball -- a number of different things are going on," he said. "All the projects are different. Some involve simulation, while others involve standard biomechanics research protocols."

IOC research findings are shared with athletes all over the world via publications and/or videotapes supplied for educational purposes. Data from one Olympics research project resulted in improved landing mat standards for gymnastics competitions, for example. Olympic divers, on the other hand, may study another set of data collected on 1,000 dives to evaluate their performance under varying conditions -- in training and competition -- and improve their skills.

Diving into Simulation

Divers who spring off the 10-meter platform in Georgia Tech's Aquatics Center during the Games will not only wow spectators with their skill and control -- they will provide scientists such as Dr. Jessica Hodgins, College of Computing assistant professor, with some important data.

Hodgins is part of a research team lead by Dr. Doris Miller from The University of Ontario's Department of Kinesiology. With doctoral student Wayne Wooten, Hodgins has completed a computer simulation of a platform diver performing a pike, a somersault and a twisting dive.

As athletes begin their dives, a force-measuring device -- the first used in a summer Olympic event -- will record the forces the divers exert on the platform as they generate angular momentum and height for their dives. Hodgins will use this data to refine her simulations, by comparing the forces seen in the simulations to those exerted by the Olympic divers.

Hodgins' simulation was developed at Georgia Tech's Graphics, Visualization and Usability Center. Combined with Motion Interactive (MINT) visualization software written by Michael Sinclair and colleagues in Georgia Tech's Interactive Multimedia Technology Center, her work will help coaches and athletes in future games see how changes in diving technique might affect performance.

Staying Grounded for Track and Field

When Paralympic athletes practice track and field events like javelin and discus throwing, they may use camping or other tools -- such as ropes and tent spikes -- to immobilize the chairs they sit in. But when competition time comes, an alternative is necessary: Ropes and tent spikes are no match for a concrete slab in a stadium carpeted with artificial turf.

Enter Georgia Tech's Center for Rehabilitation Technology. For the 1996 games, the center's engineers sandwiched a slice of marine-grade plywood between an aluminum skin and a collection of strategically placed runners' cleats. This stabilizing plate is laid on the ground. Each athlete's chair is attached to the aluminum-covered side with industrial- strength suction cups the size of an adult's palm, which are connected to length-adjustable hooks that grip the chair, said research engineer Riley Hawkins.

"The throwing chairs athletes will use are coming from all over the world," Hawkins said. They may have been designed in an athlete's garage in Australia, or in a prestigious European university -- but on all configurations, our clamps have to work."

The plate's adjustment mechanisms must work quickly and easily, too, Hawkins added.

"Many events will be staged in one coliseum," he explained. "We have to get an athlete into position in seconds, so that she or he can throw for a few minutes and then get out of the way for the next athlete."

The plate is about 100 pounds lighter than the round metal disks used in the 1992 Paralympics in Barcelona. As a result, volunteers can easily maneuver it and attach athletes' chairs to it. CRT is producing 10 plates and 50 clamps for the 1996 Paralympics, with funding from the Atlanta Paralympic Organizing Committee.

Ultra-Accessible Kiosk

Try accessing the average information kiosk while you're seated in a chair -- in some cases, you may have difficulty seeing the computer screen or even using the keyboard. For the 1996 Paralympic Games kiosk, Georgia Tech's Center for Rehabilitation Technology built a cabinet at a height accessible to seated and standing persons.

Initially it was thought that two kiosks would be needed. When the project came to CRT, designer Alan Harp explained that CRT could build one kiosk that would serve almost everyone.

"One kiosk at this height and screen angle will meet the needs of 95 percent of people, regardless of height and whether they are seated or standing," he said.

The prototype kiosk is in the lobby of the Atlanta Paralympics Organizing Committee headquarters. A total of 180 kiosks are in production at the Georgia prison systems' Phillips and Alto correctional facilities. The wood for the kiosks is recycled -- it comes from an Atlanta landmark, the old Sears building on Ponce de Leon Avenue.

The Art of Engineering

A collaboration between The Atlanta Ballet and Georgia Tech's Interactive Media Technology Center (IMTC) will close the Olympics Art Festival scheduled in conjunction with the 1996 Olympic Games.

The Dance Technology Project's performance will feature world premieres combining ballet and computer animation techniques, says IMTC director Mike Sinclair.

"In the performance slated for the Olympics, the audience will see what we refer to as video costuming," Sinclair explains. "That is, a camera and computer system will track the motions of the dancers on stage while a second graphics computer creates their 'virtual costumes' which are projected onto them, in exact registration to their body orientations -- even as they dance. Other activities will include computer generated dancers intermingling with real dancers, and computer- generated art 'created' by the dancers as the performance progresses."

For the first Dance Technology composition, choreographed in 1994, researchers used Motion Interactive (MINT) -- a special motion-capture program they developed -- to translate dance into computer animation. Two video cameras captured the movement of reflective markers at 27 points on a dancer's body. The researchers digitized the video, using it to create a computer model of the dancer.

For the second performance, the researchers employed infrared cameras to track emitters hidden on a dancer's costume. Computed and fed into a high-speed graphics workstation in real time, the animation video resulted in animated trails of the dancer's movements by projection of real-time graphics onto a translucent screen.

Future applications will include motion capture and visualization for dance analysis and injury prevention. This work is sponsored by Georgia Tech and The Atlanta Ballet.

Medical Care from a Distance

Researchers and medical doctors around Georgia will team up to demonstrate the viability of telemedicine during the Olympics.

With support from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, AT&T, Panasonic, IBM and Kodak, doctors and researchers will simulate medical emergencies to show how computer, video and telephone technology can be used to care for patients who can't be readily transported to a medical facility or doctor's office.

The researchers will demonstrate telemedical care:

The scenarios will include use of a wide-bandwidth wired and wireless telecommunications network among major medical centers in Georgia and Georgia Tech's Student Health Services Center; a van with equipment supporting wireless, wide-bandwidth videoconferencing; and a computerized language translator.

Participants include Georgia Tech, Emory University School of Medicine, Georgia Baptist Medical Center, Morehouse School of Medicine, the Medical College of Georgia and Eisenhower Army Medical Center, all members of the Southeast Telemedicine Alliance.

An Air Quality Opportunity

Like many cities its size and larger, Atlanta never sleeps. With the exception of Christmas, traffic flows remain pretty constant day-to-day, week-to-week. For atmospheric scientists, that constancy means few chances to measure city air quality during varied traffic conditions.

But the 1996 Summer Olympics offers atmospheric scientists a rare measurement opportunity: Atlanta brimming over with activity, says Dr. Mike Rodgers.

"We can see what happens when a city of reasonable size suddenly greatly increases its activities over a defined time," explains Rodgers, director of Georgia Tech's Air Quality Laboratory. "We want to collect data and make measurements to find out how well our models predict what will happen under those conditions. We also plan to compare the 1996 results to measurements made in Atlanta since 1992."

Before, during and after the Olympics, Georgia Tech researchers will gather data with colleagues from the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. They will use tethered and free-floating balloons that hoist measuring devices into the air, emissions- tracking equipment set up along streets and interstates, and stationary measuring devices at sites around the city.

The instruments will record air quality at different levels in Atlanta's atmosphere this summer, as well as mobile source emissions -- substances generated by a sample of about 60,000 to 90,000 cars, trucks and buses. Meteorological data also will be recorded, since weather conditions influence air conditions.

Along with the Electric Power Research Institute, Emory University and the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Georgia Tech researchers also will chart human health effects of ozone pollution, correlating asthma cases with air quality.

For more information on air quality research at Georgia Tech, see the Air Quality Laboratory's home page: http://aql.eas.gatech.edu.

Georgia Tech Aquatic Center to Showcase Solar Energy

When Olympic water events come to the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center this summer, great accomplishments will not be limited to athletics. Georgia Tech researchers will be putting on a stellar performance of their own with the operation of the United States' largest rooftop photovoltaic (PV), or solar-powered, system.

The system was designed by Dr. Ajeet Rohatgi and Dr. Miroslav M. Begovic, both professors in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, along with Richard Long, project support manager in Tech's Office of Facilities. Georgia Power Co., the U.S. Department of Energy and Georgia Tech are sponsoring the project. The $5.2 million PV system is expected to provide about 25 percent of the electrical energy needed for the Aquatic Center, Rohatgi says, and will save Georgia Tech almost $30,000 a year in energy bills.

The system includes two arrays totalling 345 kilowatts (kW) of power. It consists of a 340 kW array, located on the center's rooftop, and 5 kW of 240-watt PowerWall architectural AC modules covering the roof of the center's entrance walkway. Connected to an electric grid supplied by Georgia Power, the larger array will supplement grid power for the aquatic activities.

Installation of the solar panel modules began in December 1995. The 340 kW array consists of 2,856 DC modules. Each module is 1.1 square meter and produces 120 watts of power. The PV array will produce 440,000 kW per hour of electrical energy per year, and according to Rohatgi, that amount of energy is sufficient to provide power to about 70 homes.

After the PV rooftop power system is installed, a data acquisition system will be put into place. Accurate tracking of environmental and weather conditions, operating performance and reliability record will be required, according to Begovic. Two data loggers, driven by uninterruptible power supplies, will be used. One, on the roof of the center, will collect weather-related data such as wind speed, solar insolation and temperature. The second data logger, placed in the inverter room, will collect data related to the system's performance. Both data loggers will supply information in tables of 15-minute averages of measurements repeated every 15 seconds, to both the display computers and a remote computer.

This solar energy project is a major research initiative for the University Center of Excellence for Photovoltaics Research and Education (UCEP), of which Rohatgi is director. A PV tutorial at the natatorium will cover the fundamentals of solar energy. It also will supply data on the on-line performance of the PV system, such as kilowatts produced per hour.

"The PV tutorial will provide an opportunity to educate a large number of people at an international event about photovoltaics, and increase their awareness of PV as a viable energy source," Rohatgi said. "Increased awareness and level of interest are important factors in helping to make solar power a more affordable energy source. We have a unique opportunity to do those things at this summer's Olympics."


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Last updated: 28 May 1996