GPS at the Olympics: Twitter Disrupts GPS Data from Olympic Cyclers to Broadcasters

July 31, 2012  - By


UPDATE: Title changed to clarify that GPS signals are not affected, but the transfer of the GPS data to the broadcasters.


GPS is playing a role at the 2012 Olympics in London, through apps for smartphones to transportation issues, and even a clash with social media.

Twitter Disrupts GPS Data from Olympic Cyclists to Broadcasters

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said that social media prevented broadcasters from getting accurate GPS data about the precise location of Olympic bicycle competitors during the155-mile men’s cycling road race.

According to Reuters, commentators on Saturday’s men’s cycling road race were unable to tell television viewers how far the leaders were ahead of the chasing pack because data could not get through from the GPS satellite navigation system traveling with the cyclists.

IOC spokesman Mark Adams says the Olympic Broadcasting Services service was jammed by “hundreds of thousands” of people sending texts, pictures and updates to social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, the Washington Post reports.

To alleviate the bandwidth issue, the IOC asked users not to tweet, saying unless it’s an “urgent, urgent one, please kind of take it easy.”

The problem arose due to lack of data bandwidth provided by telecom carriers, which did not properly anticipate demand. CNET’s Zack Whittaker reports that users send almost 10 million tweets during the opening ceremonies alone.

The problem appeared to be solved for Sunday’s women’s road race.

Apps Spark User Interaction, Excitement

A number of mobile apps will help spectators at the Games keep tabs on the action.

SoFit Mobile. A Toronto-based mobile development company, SoFit Mobile, has released a free social-gaming app that uses GPS technology to track users’ steps as they compete with friends. Users can donate money to charity or unlock medals and real-life discounts and coupons based on how far they travel. Early participants were eligible to win tickets to the games.

The app is designed to connect users with friends virtually, regardless of geographical and cultural differences, where they can train together and take part in athletic events like the New York Marathon.

“Using the Olympics as a way to inspire more people to get active, SoFit will engage users to take small steps to start living healthier while connecting millions to make the world a better place,” said Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan in a press release.

The app was developed in partnership with the Walk A Mile campaign, which was inspired by the 2012 London Games. SoFit is available for Apple and Android devices.

Samsung Hope Relay. For every mile run while this app is activated, Samsung donates 1 pound to charities, including Kids Company and International Inspiration. The app uses GPS to track the users’ movements walking, running, or cycling, alone or as part of a team.

TorchTracker. This app used GPS tracking to pinpoint where the Olympic Torch was as it made its way to the games, and helped fans find places to see it go by.

American and Australian Team Buses Get Lost

Before the games began, buses taking Australian and American athletes from Heathrow Airport to Olympic Park experienced a failure of GPS end users, sending the athletes around the city for a long tour before arriving at the Olympic Village.

The bus driver hired by London Olympic organizers had not driven or been shown the route before, and could not operate the GPS navigation system fitted in the vehicle. Also, some of the venues, such as the village, had not been pre-loaded into the devices.

For the Aussies, it turned into a 3½-hour marathon, accidentally taking them past central London landmarks such as Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament.

A separate London 2012 bus carrying American athletes got so badly lost it took four hours to make the 23-mile trip across the capital.

Olympic Lanes and GPS Vehicle Tracking

After there were problems for the athletes getting to events in 1996, every host country has had an Olympic Lane to speed the journey for Olympians. However, residents have grumbled about it and there has been some talk about defying the rule and using the lane for unofficial business.

Blogger Oliver Ortiz posits that the conflicts could have been avoided if organizers had made use of GPS vehicle tracking. “The Olympic Lane is open from 6 a.m. until midnight both ways, and for many this is a folly. There will be certain times of the day when the Olympic Lane will be essential and it almost appears lazy on behalf of the Olympics organisers not to consider the best times for the lane to be open. If only they had thought about using GPS Vehicle Tracking to not only design the opening times, but also to monitor the Olympic Lanes during the games and make changes to when they are open. GPS Vehicle Tracking would have made these two things possible.

“London knew they were having the Olympics way back in 2005, could the Olympic Committee not have thought about levels of traffic and travel times at various points in the day using GPS Vehicle Tracking to put forward a more practical schedule for the Olympic Lane to be open?”