Wearable Tech Expo: How wearables will change the 2020 Tokyo Olympics



See the original report in Japanese

At the Wearable Tech Expo 2014 in Tokyo, there was a panel discussion about how wearable devices will affect the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. We’d like to bring you some highlights of that discussion. Participating in the talk (pictured above from left to right above) was moderator Kensuke Joji from Hakuhodo DY, Takeshi Natsuno (Keio University), Dai Tamesue (Athlete Society), Kozo Ibata (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications), Toshinao Sasaki (journalist), Toshiyuki Inoko (teamLab Inc., not pictured).

Natsuno explained that to grow the total users of wearable devices, development of both software and hardware needs to be mature. Considering Japan’s developed sci-fi culture around wearable devices, he insists that it is quite possible that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics could fully welcome wearable devices.

Athlete Tamesue commented on the regulations of athletes using the internet during Olympics.

In the past, participating athletes were told by the IOC not to upload photos or texts to the internet. But eventually blogging was allowed, followed by social media. I wonder how much the IOC will limit the use of the internet in 2020.

Takeshi Natsuno and Dai Tamesue

Sasaki noted that the current discussion is too focused on wearable devices, which is actually just one aspect of a bigger picture. The growth of sensors and wearable devices should be followed by data accumulated in the cloud, big-data analytics, and monetizing through internet services.

He says more discussion is needed about how big-data should be used in the context of data journalism, and that data could be presented for audience.

In other words, to realize a “wearable Olympics” in 2020, figuring out how to build a business scheme and get sponsorships will be more challenging than technology itself. The Olympics in its current form cannot run without broadcasting and sponsorship fees. But as many athletes report live information by putting photos on social media, the overall communication of the Olympics has been changing. The business model first needs to be reviewed in order to expand the use of wearable devices in Olympics.


Many wearable devices have features that acquiring biological data or in some cases (with certain athletic shoes, for example) assist user action. By utilizing such features, they could help Olympic better their performance. Tamesue notes that Olympic athletes are currently not allowed to use equipment that aids athletic performance. But considering the fact that so much equipments needs to be used in the winter Olympics and Paralympics in particular, the IOC could be more flexible about this rule in the future.

Developing fair regulations will be necessary as well. If the IOC allows athletes to use wearable devices, that could mean that athletes from developing/underdeveloped countries would be at a disadvantage.

If Olympic athletes use wearable devices, audiences would naturally want to look at the accumulated data along with live video. That could open the door to data journalism. At the same time, it also leads to the important question of who owns the data. Is it the athletes? Or the sponsors?

Sasaki commented that it is very difficult to regulate the license of data in such public circumstances. He also predicts that data might be open to public and the media, and other organizations could be allowed to use and process it on their own. Ibata from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications says that the discussion of how to handle personal information included in the data is necessary, but but within his own organization, there has not yet been discussion about these sort of rights. He said that the stance of the ministry that data is preferably open and available for others to build upon.

Toshinao Sasaki

Tamesue predicts that athletes will not be allowed to use wearable devices during competition even in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. However, it will be also difficult to regulate. Sasaki predicts use of wearables limited within a certain rule, but also that all data will be shared on the internet and it will not be controlled.

Interactive Olympics

Inoko from teamLab shared his own perspective on the meaning of Olympics. He says that Olympics had been like theatre performances until the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But at London 2012, it changed into a movie-like form, with more editing and digital processing mixed into the live video.

Toshiyuki Inoko

At Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016, the fusion of live video and digital media will be even more evident. And Inoko predicts the Tokyo Olympics will be an interactive Olympics where the audience actively participates in some way.

Now that we can vaguely imagine a future of wearable devices, how can Japanese people build a successful Olympics in 2020? There is no definite answer yet, but a comment by Tamesue particularly impressed me:

We hosted the Tokyo Olympics in 1960. And the bullet train network and the national stadium built for that event still has a huge influence on our daily lives. That means, what we build for these Olympics could have a big impact on the next half of the century. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics should be an opportunity to present something that foreshadows the next 50 years of our world.

The image of an athlete projected at Shibuya station (teamLab)

3D Hologram (teamLab)

Along with the torch runner, the devices of audience are lit (teamLab)