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X Games Goes High-Tech

At last month's competition in Aspen, Intel mounted wireless sensor modules to slopestyle and big-air competitors' snowboards in an attempt to quantify awesome.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Feb 11, 2016

During last month's Consumer Electronics Show, Intel announced that its Curie wireless sensor modules, mounted to competitors' snowboards, would be used to track riders' speed, rotation and other statistics in real time during the 21st annual X Games, held in Aspen. Sports fans had the opportunity to see the results a few weeks later, when they watched the games on television.

These devices, about the size of a hockey puck, process the sensor data and serve it up instantly, transmitting it to receivers (which were mounted along the X Games courses) via a Bluetooth connection. Such real-time availability might not be of great value to the snowboarders, since they're too busy hurling themselves off jumps and sighting their landings to read the statistics, but from a spectator's and coach's point of view, the stats serve up great supplementary information. Plus, after the X Games ended, those athletes, along with their coaches, could study the sensor data and watch the corresponding footage intently, as part of their training regimens.

Mark McMorris in flight, and Intel engineer Stephanie Moyerman observing a real-time data test
The module contains a six-axis combo sensor with an accelerometer and a gyroscope, as well as a GPS receiver, a barometer and a compass. It is capable of tracking speed, height, distance, airtime, rotations, inversions (flips) and g-force. (Here is the spec sheet.) During the competition, the technology was used only during the final rounds of the men's slopestyle and big-air events.

In both events, only speed, distance, rotation and g-force (of landings) were conveyed to viewers in real time. With the pace of competition and the number of athletes running one after another, that is probably as much data as viewers could easily and quickly read on the screen. Viewers might have liked to have had the chance to witness these stats in the halfpipe competitions, but in that event, riders perform too many tricks, too quickly, to give spectators much of a chance to keep up with the stats in real time.

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